GO Kin backpacks generate electricity from walking and hiking
By C.C. Weiss
June 23, 2014
The market for portable gadget chargers is bulging. While grid-fed chargers like the LithiumCard are ample for use around town, things get more complicated when you venture off the grid. A new backpack cuts reliance on external power sources, harvesting energy from something much more reliably available … you.
There are already plenty of solutions for off-the-grid charging, but they tend to be either heavy, cumbersome generators or smaller systems tied into uncontrollable weather forces like sun and wind. The latter are great under the right conditions, but what about when you're under a heavy tree canopy and the air is completely still?
If you're actively hiking or walking around a trail or worksite, the Go Kin backpack is generating electricity and powering your gadgets. The backpack holds an integrated generator in the bottom of its main compartment. Two cables pull out and attach to the wearer's shoes, transforming the motion of his or her walking into usable, storable electricity.
The generated electricity flows either directly to USB-connected electronics or to the included lithium-ion battery for later use. Go Kin claims its last prototype pulled enough electricity for up to 25 minutes of cell phone talk time from five minutes of brisk walking. It expects its latest prototype to be more powerful and plans to post results as it completes testing.
The latest Go Kin power pack has two USB ports for charging gadgets and a power jack for charging the internal battery directly from an outlet. A battery indicator light shows how much power is available. It also has a mini USB, which the creators plan to use for future data-collecting applications for things like power output and calories burned.
Go Kin's energy-harvesting technology began in the biomechanics research efforts of Queen's University's Dr. Qingguo Li and Michael Shepertycky, a Ph.D student. Technology from the research was licensed to Go Kin's Bill Ostrom, an outdoor enthusiast with more than two decades of equipment-building experience, through Parteq Innovations, an intermediary entity that aids in the commercialization of intellectual property born at the university.
With continued help from the university, along with a few industrial partners, Go Kin refined the technology, shrinking it into a form small enough to be added to a backpack. The current prototype (electronics and battery) weighs 2.6 lb (1.2 kg) and measures 10 x 5 x 3 in (25 x 13 x 8 cm).
While the Go Kin pack is a creative way of generating electricity on the go, it's not without its disadvantages. The most useful applications for the technology are situations where you're away from the grid and other charging solutions (i.e. a generator-equipped vehicle) for extended periods of time, such as backpacking trips. However, these are the type of trips where a bulky, 2.6-lb generator is a convenience that you might not have room for. The cables also seem like they could be cumbersome during adventures through thick brush, mud and other obstacles. They get even more cumbersome when you don't have tabs on the back of your shoes and need to hook up using full ankle bracelets.
While these disadvantages become even more pronounced when looking at other energy-harvesting devices, so, too, do the Go Kin's advantages. The nPower Peg that hit the market a few years ago is a lighter, less restrictive option that's also designed to be used in a backpack. However, its one minute of talk/25 minutes of walking looks shamefully shabby compared to Go Kin's quote of 10 to 25 minutes talk/five minutes walk. The Go Kin can charge tablets, while the nPower Peg is limited to smaller handheld devices.
Go Kin hopes to begin production of its packs within the next few months and has begun a Kickstarter campaign to finance its molds, offering a generator-equipped fanny pack for a US$295 pledge and a backpack for $395. It suggests that the charging device will be available on its own in the future, but it is not offering it on Kickstarter separate from the packs. It hopes to begin deliveries of the generator packs in November if its funding and pre-production schedule go as planned.
Source: Go Kin