On Campus

Saving lives: one step at a time

SFU team lands on prestigious invention list with energy harvester

A bionic energy-harvesting device created at Simon Fraser University has made Time magazine’s high-profile list of Best 50 Inventions of 2008.

The leg-worn brace weighs about 900 grams and can generate about a half-hour of mobile phone talk time (about 13 watts) from one minute of walking. The device was invented by Max Donelan and his SFU research team and developed by Bionic Power, a spinoff company that sports Donelan in the role of chief science officer.

In its Nov. 10 issue, Time calls the Bionic Energy Harvester “perhaps the most promising in a class of products that harvest energy – all the more important at the time when portable tech, from Blackberries to iPods, is becoming ubiquitous.”

Donelan says he and his research team are honoured to land on the list and excited by how the technology could help revolutionize how power is generated and stored, which has real potential to save lives.

“There are groups whose lives depend on portable electricity and their lives are at risk if they run out,” he says. “People like the military treat batteries the way they treat food and water, and in a 48-hour mission, soliders can carry as much as 30 pounds of batteries with them.”

Although Donelan says the Canadian military is one of Bionic Power’s sponsors, he also stresses that the technology could have massive emergency response implications as well.

“Imagine after Hurricane Katrina, or another massive disaster, when communications and electrical systems are down and emergency workers need to find the people who need help the most,” he says. “You’ll need two-way radios, GPS and all sorts of other technology, but how do you supply them with that portable power? That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Yad Garacha, the company’s chief executive officer, agrees that the technology is ultimately about freedom, particularly for soldiers, emergency workers, users of mobile medical devices and those who depend on portable power.

The device attracted international media attention last February after it was featured in the prominent academic journal Science.

It is joined on Time‘s prestigious list by other inventions including the Tesla electric roadster, the Large Hadron Collider, and Michael Phelps’ controversial Speedo LZR Razor swimsuit in which he won eight Olympic gold medals.

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