As a result, ARL and Per Vivo Labs have entered into a patent license agreement allowing the company exclusive rights to commercially field ARL technology for rehabilitation resistance bands and other physical therapy aids.
The ARL technology includes rate-activated tethers and incorporates shear thickening fluid into an elastomeric tube to create a stretchable, flexible material with an unusual property.
When stretched at low speeds, the strap is elastic like a rubber band, but at quicker extension rates it becomes up to 100 times more resistive in a fraction of a second.
ARL says these speed-triggered materials have wide range of potential applications, from self-adjusting helmet chinstraps to ankle braces that are both supportive and comfortable.
Under the agreement, Per Vivo will have exclusive rights to apply ARL's technology to create improved equipment for physical therapy.
Dr. Eric D. Wetzel, ARL's research area leader for Soldier materials, has been studying shear thickening fluids since 2000, and is a co-inventor on a 2016 patent for the rate-activated tethers.
Per Vivo and ARL also signed a cooperative research and development agreement to further develop the Army's technology for physical therapy, rehabilitation or exercise applications for Army use as well as commercial applications. Per Vivo is in discussions with academic experts in rehabilitative health sciences to create a formal study for evaluation of the technology.
Hubbard said the speed sensitivity of the rate-activated tethers opens up new rehabilitation concepts that could be more effective than existing protocols.
Hubbard credits ARL's Open Campus initiative with access he's granted to “come up and work, and learn from Dr. Wetzel and his team.” His visit to ARL's Rodman Materials Laboratory on the Aberdeen Proving Ground helped him learn the steps involved in the fabrication of the tethers.
“Our intention is to go back and to set up our manufacturing facility based on the lessons that we learned,” said Hubbard, who served seven years in the U.S. Army. “We basically have a seat at the table with the Army’s research lab. I can go up there and work directly with their research scientists … I’m working on the physio-therapy applications. The magic is what is inside the tube.”
Hubbard indicated he could relate to what happens when you have a tightly-strapped helmet on your head and then jump out of an airplane with a parachute on your back.
“You hit the ground and knock yourself silly,” he observed. “I did it several times. When you have on a helmet and you have your straps tightened, it’s very hard to move your jaw. That causes additional fatigue. If you have something flexible, which you can’t under the ways things are presently, you can talk easier, be more comfortable and have more freedom of movement.”
The National Football League is looking at the technology in its concussion mitigation research, according to Hubbard.
DOD TechLink, a partnership intermediary for the U.S. Department of Defense that operates nationally and supports the entire defense laboratory enterprise with technology transfer, facilitated the license agreement between ARL and Per Vivo Labs, said Dr. Austin Leach, a senior technology manager. He said ARL is one of the “more prolific laboratories” that produces a high volume of inventions that TechLink markets to the private-sector for further development and commercialization.
“DOD doesn't manufacture its own goods; we depend on the private sector to do that,” Leach, a former research scientist, said. “ARL is paving is the way with its Open Campus (business model) by showing its ability to be open in the post-911 world, when fences went up at different labs and it became more difficult for military scientists to work with those outside of the government. Scientists are only as good as their own ideas but discussing our ideas with others opens many new possibilities.”