A lever arm inspired by the human body
First illustration of the lever arm invented by Push4M (Muscle Mechanics Mimetic Motor)
A lever arm inspired by the human body – Fabienne Berthet – Le Monitor Matériels 22nd September 2017
Innovation. Start-up Push4M has developed a pioneering technology that breaks with conventional lifting methods. The concept, invented by a physiotherapist, is attracting investors. A promising opportunity that has still to be confirmed.
According to its supporters, Push4M is one of those start-ups that can look forward to a bright future. Investors in this company are backing a completely new approach in lifting mechanisms based on transverse thrust technology that enables heavier loads to be moved with less effort and which has fewer disadvantages. The concept could be a technological breakthrough in the hoisting and robotics sectors. Following several years of research and development, the solution found is based on a lever arm that was inspired by the workings of the human body and more specifically by action of muscle expansion.
The originator of the project is Nicolas de Lussy, a civil engineer and physiotherapist by training. He developed the concept on the basis of observations of patients he made in the course of his 44000 functional physiotherapy sessions and…. numerous experimental mechanical mock-ups. And the development opportunities are considerable – the possibility of producing much lighter hoisting machinery capable of lifting the same loads as conventional lifting gear, requiring less power and therefore generating cost savings in production and maintenance. The inventor believes that this solution could be key to a revolution in conventional practice in many spheres. He believes it to be “A disruptive energy alternative”. “Compared to a rotary motor such as a longitudinal actuator, our solution requires minimal power input.” And to endorse this, his figures are quite persuasive. “The necessary input effort is half as much as for a conventional system and there is also half as much noise generation. The payload is significantly increased and, in addition, it is extremely accurate over a range of 180°. The tare weight is low and there is no loss of position in the event of a change in load.”
Invented in a garage, this technology has attracted the attention of Jacques Pellas, former Secretary General of Dassault Aviation and ex-president of the foundation of the EPF engineering school at Sceaux. He has joined the ranks of Push4M and has nothing but praise for the new solution. “The areas of application are vast – the construction industry, robotics, transport, materials and equipment handling, etc.”
Independent investor Fréderic Plisson is just as enthusiastic. “It is a new potential method of lifting heavy weights and which provides an answer to issues that are not resolved by current technologies, technologies that have not been challenged for over a century”, he declared. Adopting a more moderate tone, he said, “It is a long adventure that is only just beginning. The advantages of this solution will have to be demonstrated practically, not conceptually”. On a scientific level, it is recognised that the idea is sound. Sébastien Briot, a Doctor of Science and head of research at CNRS sees in the solution the advantage that very little input effort is necessary to produce high output. However, “it still has yet to be scientifically proven that there is a reduction in power consumption for construction machinery. If this is the case, the impact could be extremely beneficial”. Moreover, the scientist points out the difficulty in miniaturising the invention. “Scaling-down is not an easy task”, he admitted.
Already major players in the sector, equipment leasing companies and manufacturers are keeping a watchful eye on the process. Vincent Royer, Digital Transformation Director at Kiloutou is particularly interested in transverse thrust technology and the project is part of his technology monitoring programme. Jérôme Stubler, Chairman of Vinci Construction, having viewed videos of the lever arm, stated that he was convinced of the concept’s potential. Nor is Bouygues Construction hiding its interest. Bruno Lineatte, Head of Construction Methods R&D for the group, stated, “The general principle, the result that Push4M hopes to achieve is of great interest to us. In the building industry, robots are still much to large and heavy for us to use – they range from 1 to 2 tonnes”. There is no doubt, the technology is drawing interest from all sectors. But there is still a long way to go before it is finally tried and tested.
Photo: Nicolas de Lussy, founder of Push4M in 2016
The construction industry in the starting blocks
“Power savings for construction equipment must be scientifically validated”, Sébastien Briot, Head of Research at CNRS.
Four reasons to believe in the project!
An industrial prototype in the autumn
To become accepted, Push4M’s lever arm has to move on from the demonstration phase. During development, Push4M worked with a team of students from various engineering schools – EPF at Sceaux, Polytech Tours, Centrale Nantes – to develop an industrial prototype. Insa at Lyon provided the required aluminium machining. The prototype should be ready in the autumn of 2017.
A test campaign will then be conducted until the end of the year. “The prototype must be able to lift a weight over a range of 180°. It will consist of a series of articulated segments forming a full articulated arm able to move freely in four directions. The aim is to fit the arm to a lifting mechanism and to make a direct comparison between two machines” stated Nicolas de Lussy, the concept inventor.
Interest from the professionals
Vincent Royer of Kiloutou has declared his interest for Push4M’s initiative: “It is a very different approach that is a long way from our sector. We are at the interface of an ecosystem. We came into contact with this start-up when it made its pitch as part of the Impulse Labs incubator, with which we have a partnership. For the moment, it is not so much the technical achievement that is of interest to us, rather the potential applications.
This is part of our intention to keep a watch on the world of innovation. If it is successful, the entire system could change. With miniaturisation, it would be possible to access spaces that are presently inaccessible and thus reinforce preventive maintenance. It also offers the prospect of moving to electrically powered motors.
A business model
The Push4M start-up relies on three revenue sources aimed at pooling resources and develop on-demand technical solutions, thus enabling the company to receive a fee from its participation in a technology and commercial platform. It intends to increase the number of partnering links with plant, machinery and robot manufacturers. This young company estimates that it will raise between 300000 and 500000 euros by the end of the year, by applying to the major players in the sector.
Expected market opportunities
“The heavy load handling and demolition market sectors are stagnating as a result of a slow-down in demand in China, but also and above all due to a lack of innovation preventing manufacturers from adapting to the special needs of the construction industry”, according to Jacques Pellas of Push4M.
New solutions are desperately needed in the hostile environments prevailing in the field of demolition, load handling and site logistics. The sector has to contend with limited equipment movement capacities and has to put up with the limited lifting capacity of currently used site cranes. The market is currently estimated to be over 50 billion euros world-wide, without counting equipment leasing companies, which can also be manufacturers themselves or accessory providers. Push4M is therefore aiming at a market of 2.5 billion euros.