Virginia Tech developing energy-harvesting backpack for Army

Posted at 6:30 PM, May 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-03 00:47:33-04

Once a week, soldiers at Ft. Eustis set off on a rigorous six mile march around the base.

The distance is made challenging by the heavy gear they carry, which can weigh 50 pounds or more.

"If we could do it in sneakers, people would probably be a lot better at it," 1st Lt. Molly Yardley told News 3.

To help them out, researchers at Virginia Tech are working on ways to lighten their load.

Energy Harvesting and Mechatronics Research Lab at Virginia Tech

Right now they're testing out innovative technology designed to capitalize off all the walking soldiers do.

"When the soldier walks, we can harvest the energy," Dr. Lei Zuo told News 3.

Zuo is an associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Energy Harvesting and Mechatronics Research Lab in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering.

The Army awarded him a grant of more than $344,000 to develop an energy-harvesting backpack.

It looks like a normal rucksack, but underneath the pack you can see a small device on the frame.

Energy-harvesting backpack

It captures energy using the up and down motion of walking, which can be used to charge batteries.

That means fewer heavy batteries for soldiers to haul around on long trips for things like GPS equipment or communication devices.

The device only weighs about a pound.

"If we take the backpack frame into consideration, probably we can save 10 pounds," Zuo said.

Although soldiers train hard to handle the heavy loads, a lighter pack could make them more efficient with less chance for injuries.

"When you're talking about 6, 7, 8, 9 miles - all those pounds add up.  So if we could find a way to either have rechargeable batteries or lighter batteries or things that could be more self-sustaining, that would be perfect," 1st Lt. Yardley said.

Later this month, the energy-harvesting backpack will be sent to the Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center for further testing.