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Companies Developing Wireless Battery System for Soldiers 


By Valerie Insinna 

The Army is testing a system that would be able to move power wirelessly to and from the conformal battery in a soldier’s vest, allowing him to charge it and power certain devices without being tethered to an outlet.

This wireless power transfer could reduce the amount of batteries that soldiers carry by at least five pounds, according to WiTricity Corp., a wireless technology company involved with the service’s effort. The program is funded by the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts.

WiTricity and prime contractor Protenex, which manufactures power management devices, are devising a system that will transfer power from a seat back in a vehicle to the battery in a soldier’s vest, said Jeff Muhs, WiTricity’s director of business development for automotive, industrial and military business units. The companies are also working on a way to move power wirelessly from the battery in a soldier’s vest to his helmet.

“The way that the technology works is we have two highly resonate devices or coils that are tuned to the same frequency and exchange energy via an osculating magnetic field,” he said. Resonators to transmit and capture energy would be installed on seat backs, vests and helmets. Seat backs would be modified with electronic components to move power, but no other modifications to a soldier’s batteries or helmet would be needed.

The company has so far developed the resonators and electronics and tested those separately in the lab, he said. Next, those components will be integrated with the truck seat, vest and helmet to test and evaluate their performance.

“They are proof-of-concept systems, and so additional development will be required to ruggedize them, to refine the form, fit and function of the devices after soldiers have had a chance to utilize them in the field at some point in the future,” he said. Although the current contract does not contain funding for testing with soldiers, Muhs hopes the Army will approve follow-on contracts for further evaluation. 

The goal of the current program is to demonstrate the feasibility of moving power safely and efficiently, but the company is conscious that minimizing the weight of the electronics and transceivers will be important in future activities, he said. “We are moving as much of the electronics and weight [as we can] to the transmitting side in the seat back.”

Photo Credit: Thinkstock
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