FIED to enhance mobility for soldiers in the field

Defence is taking steps toward the development of a power generating device to enable soldiers to power devices via a “body mounted vibration energy harvesting unit”

Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), in collaboration with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), have taken strides toward the development of a power generating device to assist soldiers in the field.

The Flexible Integrated Energy Device (FIED), created as part of the organisation’s Capability and Technology Demonstrator (CTD) program, will enable dismounted Australian Defence Force soldiers to power electronic systems from a “body mounted vibration energy harvesting unit”.

DSTO researcher, Vinod Puri, told Computerworld Australia the DSTO initiated the concept with CSIRO’s Energy and Technology Division more than three years ago, to help improve power systems that had limited operating life and impeded a soldier’s mobility.

The device uses piezo electric sensors, which convert mechanical energy from motion into electrical energy, and consists of a flexible asymmetric super-capacitor, a flexible vibration energy harvesting device with a soft textile-based component. All the components will be integrated to generate, store and distribute electrical power.

“The device will be light, flexible, and ergonomic and deliver more power and last longer than the batteries used currently,” he said. “Ultimately, the FIED may integrate unobtrusively into the soldier’s garments to enhance the efficiency of harvested energy and to store larger amounts of energy to enhance solider survivability while out in the field.”

The FIED uses a transducer, a device that transforms energy from one form into another, to harvest mechanical energy from the soldier’s motion and converts this to electrical energy through conditioning. Additionally, the asymmetric super-capacitor allows the energy to be stored and for the power to flow from a flexible component in the garment.

Various ‘plug-in’ points throughout the FIED garment will enable the soldier to connect devices for use in the field of battle as they need.

According to Puri, before the device can be commercialised it must be scaled up from the current 87 milliwatts per kilogram (kg), to 200 milliwatts per kg, which could take between five to seven years. The scaling up is required to generate enough energy for a soldier’s personal communication devices in the field for a typical 72-hour rotation.

“This form of battery technology is the first of its kind. The flexible batteries can be scaled in size to provide 100wh/kg [watt hours per kilogram],” Puri said.

Researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) are similarly well on the way to developing self-powered portable electronics by enabling piezoelectric thin films to turn mechanical pressure into electricity.

The research combines piezoelectrics – materials capable of converting pressure into electrical energy – and microchip manufacturing or thin film technology.

“The ultimate aim was to gain power by harnessing off the physiological functions in the body, for instance blood pressure actually powering a biomedical device,” lead co-author, Dr Madhu Bhaskaran said at the time.

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