Imagine a future where the energy we need to power our devices, vehicles, and homes is generated by the very movement of our bodies. A world where wearable technology can harvest the kinetic energy from human motion and convert it into clean, sustainable electricity.
It may sound like science fiction, but for Vancouver-based Bionic Power, this vision is becoming a reality.
Founded in 2007 by Dr. Yad Garcha, Bionic Power is at the forefront of developing cutting-edge wearable technology that harnesses the power of human motion.
Dr. Garcha was inspired by the idea of utilizing the energy generated by human movement to power electronic devices. Driven by this vision, he assembled a team of engineers, scientists, and designers to bring his idea to life.
The early days of Bionic Power were marked by research and development efforts, as the team worked to overcome technical challenges and turn their ambitious concept into a practical, marketable product.
Today the company’s primary technology is Kinetic Energy Harvesting, which generates, captures, and utilizes electricity generated from human motion—and thus defines the essence of its wearable augmentations.
Building on the development of its original PowerWalk wearable, Bionic Power in 2023 is becoming known for two new products: the Agilik and the Amplify, advanced exoskeletons evolved from the PowerWalk, each serving distinct purposes.
Stand Taller, Walk Stronger
Designed as a gait rehabilitation device, the lightweight and comfortable Agilik “smart orthosis” moves with the wearer, providing dynamic knee assistance and resistance when needed during a patient’s gait.
This dynamic assistance helps patients with crouch gait stand more upright, gain muscle strength, and learn to walk more efficiently and with more independence, according to a statement from the BC firm.
“The Agilik is not an exoskeleton intended to hold a patient up and walk for them, but instead a rehabilitation device designed to actually improve the user’s gait,” the Vancouver company explains.
The non-invasive rehab solution is customizable for each patient’s changing condition and their growth, Bionic notes, and is combined with intelligent software to provide real-time gait analysis. Metrics tracked include range of motion as well as maximum flexion and extension angle and speed.
“Our app-based interface allows therapists and researchers to control the Agilik’s torque and timing,” Bionic says.
One touching use case is that the Agilik can assist the stance and gait of children with cerebral palsy—whose muscle muscle contractures and bone deformities can cause the unfortunate “crouch” effect this device looks to combat.
“The Agilik smart orthosis helps patients retain or increase their independence and mobility,” the company explains, noting that “This is especially critical in children with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and other knee-extension-deficiency disorders whose strength and endurance often deteriorate as they get older.”
Bionic’s hope is to stop, or even reverse, deterioration by reducing crouch gait, increasing extension and strengthening their legs—enabling patients to Stand Taller and Walk Stronger, as the company’s slogan goes.
An ongoing trial with patients shows “a concrete benefit in gait biomechanics” as well as a “training effect,” Bionic says, leading to an interesting hypothesis.
“The benefits of longer-term use might be based on a sort of rewiring of the user’s brain, enabling them to achieve benefits from the gait training that last after the orthosis is removed,” the company posits.
Production of the Agilik began this year.
Amplifying Solider Endurance
The Bionic Amplify generates electricity from the natural action of walking in much the same way regenerative braking works in hybrid cars. It utilizes titanium, carbon fibre, Pebax, and other materials to provide a light, leg-based, non-medical augmenting exoskeleton.
Worlds apart from the controlled rehab environment the Agilik thrives in, the Amplify is built to help a different set of users perform in a range of conditions. The company is targeting the military, emergency responders, and similar users with this version of the product.
Soldiers around the world carry huge amounts of heavy batteries to power their devices. Bionic Power’s goal with harvesting was to empower soldiers: this way they could carry less batteries, recharge existing batteries, extend mission times, and reduce resupply logistics.
“Whether you are a soldier marching to a battlefront, or a Search and Rescue volunteer hiking to the rescue, a long-distance hiker or someone who just needs a boost, the Amplify will be able to assist you by augmenting your step, providing a source of electricity, and in some cases reducing the weight you carry,” the tech firm said.
After “partially going back to the drawing board to add new features,” the Amplify now also provides endurance augmentation to reduce fatigue.
While walking, muscles are constantly accelerating and decelerating the knee joint. The Amplify takes advantage of this by assisting the muscles with braking to decelerate the knee joint and simultaneously generating power. This extends its own range significantly.
Or, the augmentation can be turned off so that energy harvesting alone is occurring. In an hour of walking, one can charge an iPhone 13 from completely dead, according to data from Bionic.
Once fully developed, the Amplify’s technology “may serve as the platform for the next version of the Agilik medical device,” the company has suggested, which would serve a larger population suffering from a larger variety of conditions that affect their gait.
Unlike the currently available Agilik, however, the Amplify is still being fine-tuned.
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