Walking upright is one of the things that makes us human, but it’s not the most efficient form of transport.
Now researchers in Canada have developed a lightweight exoskeleton that reduces the amount of energy needed to walk.
The device, the bulk of which is housed in a backpack, could allow a person to walk farther without tiring.
The exoskeleton also absorbs the kinetic energy of the wearer as they walk and could soon generate enough electrical power to charge a smartphone or other small devices.
Scroll down for video
Researchers at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario have developed a lightweight exoskeleton that reduces the amount of energy needed to walk by 3.3 percent
For bipeds like humans, the sequence from when one foot contacts the ground to when that same foot touches down again is called ‘a gait cycle.’
Most exoskeletons just transfer energy from one stage of the gait cycle to another.
‘Walking is a delicate and highly optimized process, which makes it difficult to use exoskeletons to improve walking efficiency,’ says Qingguo Li, a professor of mechanical and materials engineering in Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
But according to research published today in the journal Science, the device invented by Li’s team actually removes energy from the cycle, helping knee muscles during the ‘terminal swing,’ or last phase of the gait, when your shin is forward and your foot is about to touch the ground.
The exoskeleton weighs about 1.5lbs and is compact enough to fit in a normal backpack
‘Removing energy from a person’s legs during walking may sound counterintuitive, like applying the brake in a moving car,’ the study’s lead author, Michael Shepertycky of the university’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, added.
‘But our muscles naturally remove energy while we walk, and our device helps them to do so.’
The prototype is compact and lightweight — just over 1.5 lbs — and fits in a basic backpack, with two thin cables running down the body and strapping around the legs.
Two thin cables run down from the backpack and strap around the legs. As one foot hinges forward, one cable spins an electrical generator creating a small amount of resistance
As one foot hinges forward, the cable spins an electrical generator creating a small amount of resistance.
Tested on subjects on a treadmill, the device reduced the metabolic effort required to walk by 3.3 percent.
The team believe the device has numerous practical applications—from like helping take the strain off nurses, waiters, postal workers, teachers and others who spend long days on their feet.
The team believe the device could help take the strain off nurses, postal workers and others who spend long days on their feet.
‘We may be able to assist running and beat some records for the marathon,’ Shepertycky told New Scientist. ‘It’s hard to say.’
The engineers are even working on giving it a bonus feature—converting the energy removed from the wearer’s gait into enough electricity to both power the backpack’s control system and a cellphone or other portable device.
The pack converting the energy removed from the wearer’s gait into electricity. The researchers hope to soon generate enough to power the control system and a cellphone
Right now it only generates about 0.25 watts, not enough to charge a night light.
But Shepertycky is confident with some tweaking they’ll up that significantly.
He calls the prototype ‘a significant advancement in the field of exoskeleton development.’
‘For the first time, we have demonstrated that removing energy can increase walking efficiency.’