Walking, made 7% easier This photo shows an exoskeleton boot on a person walking in a park in Pittsburgh (AP photo / Thinkstock)
Walking, made 7% easier
Lexile

Engineers have come up with a motor-free device to make walking more efficient and easier. It's something scientists once thought couldn't be done.

The prototype exoskeleton boot runs from just below the knee to the ankle. When you strap on a pair, you can reduce the energy it takes to walk by 7 percent. That means you won't burn as many calories.

It's wearable robotics without a motor or a power source. The device weighs one pound. It relies instead on a spring to store energy and release it with each step. It has a clutch that engages the spring at the proper moment.

The device is a little too bulky to fit under pant legs or socks.

"It doesn't look too bad. Looks kind of flashy," said Carnegie Mellon University engineering professor Steven Collins. He is the lead author of a study published in the journal Nature. "When you first put them on, it feels a little bit odd. Then after a few minutes you don't really notice it very much."

With an obese nation, making exercise burn fewer calories may not seem like the best idea. But it's not as crazy as it sounds, Collins said.

Studies show that when walking or biking becomes harder, people do it less. So maybe if it becomes easier, people will do it more. In the long run, they could burn more calories, Collins said.

This sort of hydraulic cast could also boost the development of other exoskeleton devices, perhaps for the hips. It could help disabled people walk better, Collins and other engineering professors said. The key innovation was coming up with the clutch, Collins said.

He said he has no plans to manufacture or market this particular device. But he will talk to others who want to do so.

This was more of an engineering challenge than a plan to create the next hot product, Collins said. For a long time, researchers had figured that evolution had already provided humans with the most efficient means of moving. So the question was: Can scientists improve on nature without using motors to cheat?

"Most studies show that human walking is incredibly efficient. So finding a way to make it better is incredibly interesting," said Andy Ruina at Cornell University. He is a biomechanical engineering professor. Ruina was not part of the study.

Ruina and other outside engineers praised the new device.

"It's totally cool," Ruina said in a telephone interview. He was walking and a little out of breath. "I wish I had those."

Critical thinking challenge: How might this energy-saving device make our country healthier?

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COMMENTS (14)
  • HannahB-Kut
    4/12/2015 - 10:41 p.m.

    I'm amazed in technology now a days. It wouldn't surprise me if scientist came out with a mind reading machine, it's truly amazing. I think that if people are enjoying the shoes they should wear them. But if some people don't like them then they shouldn't wear them. I feel like how a days people are so judgmental, and they never give anything or anymore a chance. I think these shoes have a chance in something and that they will go far. I think they will be sold regularly in stores, made in 1,000's of different styles :)

  • sarah009
    4/13/2015 - 01:15 p.m.

    I don't think this would be a good idea because our country is already obese and this would not make it better. But people might do it more because it became easier.

  • emrar-boo
    4/21/2015 - 11:35 a.m.

    This energy-saving device can make our country healthier by getting America to want to actually do daily physical activity. They are more likely to walk if it's easier to do it, even if they aren't burning as many calories. It could also make the disabled walk better.

  • KnightA-Sua
    4/29/2015 - 06:54 p.m.

    Scientists have found an energy saving device to help walking easier and it just might make our country healthier. The boot like device goes from your knee to your ankle and reduces the energy needed to walk. It also makes walking more efficient. If older people had trouble walking this device could help them walk without running out of breath. Walking might not use as many calories, but maybe you could walk longer. We could have more healthy people exercising longer. And, healthier people in our country. This device just might make the people in our country exercise more often.

  • HocogJ-Sua
    4/29/2015 - 07:37 p.m.

    This energy saving device can help us make our community healthier because if elderly people want to take a walk it can help them. It can also help our community be healthier because more people in the community are exercising. Another way it helps is if you want to lose weight it helps you burn calories. This is another way to keep our community healthier. These are only some ways that this device can help keep our community healthier.

  • DorrN-Sua
    4/29/2015 - 08:31 p.m.

    This device might make our country better because when walking or running with this on it makes you burn more calories and that is good for you. Another way this device may help people be more healthier is by helping people walk 7% percent easier. These two ways combined makes you more healthier.

  • StoneM-Sua
    4/29/2015 - 09:20 p.m.

    How the energy-saving device make our country healthier is from these three reasons. First, it will have people stop buying so much food after they walk or hike. Next, is people that are over weight will think that walking is easier because they learned that walking is 7 percent better. Last, kids will get more in to walking and hiking with their family. That is how the 7 percent will make the world better.

  • MayerS-Sua
    4/29/2015 - 09:31 p.m.

    The energy saving boots will help our country by helping people that can not walk well. Another way that the energy saving boots can help our country by helping people lose more weight when they are running. A way that the energy saving boot will help our country by helping people lose more weights in the less amount of time. A way that the energy saving boot will help our country by saving more energy in the people's body's. Those were some of the ways that the energy saving boots will help our country.

  • LiCausiM-Sua
    4/29/2015 - 09:34 p.m.

    Energy saving devises will make are country healthier because it will help people move faster without much trouble. It will also help because it will help people have more energy for work. It will also prevent people's legs from hurting so much. This is why energy saving devices can help our country.

  • HokettK-Sua
    4/29/2015 - 09:47 p.m.

    This energy-saving device might make our country healthier by encouraging more people to walk. With this device people might use less motor vehicles and want to walk. Also, because it makes it easier to walk it might make larger people want to use it and walk more. The more people walk the more healthier they are. This device could not only make the country healthier but could also help the planet be healthier by using less vehicles.

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