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

The prototype exoskeleton boot runs from just below the knee to the ankle and 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 one-pound device relies instead on a spring to store energy and release it with each step and 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, 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 and burn more calories in the long run, Collins said.

This sort of hydraulic cast could also boost the development of other exoskeleton devices perhaps for the hips to 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 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 biomechanical engineering professor Andy Ruina at Cornell University, who wasn't part of the study.

Ruina and other outside engineers praised the new device.

"It's totally cool," Ruina said in a telephone interview, while 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 (28)
  • TaylorHartman-Ste
    4/09/2015 - 12:55 p.m.

    I am sure that this is very helpful with people who suffer from leg problems and other conditions that prevent them from being able to walk with ease.

  • SalomonA7
    4/09/2015 - 02:51 p.m.

    why would they want to make something as easy as walking even easier and less effortlessly. walking is helpful to burn calories and with this invention it would burn less calories and people wouldn't lose wight as much as they would if they were just regularly walking.

  • AllisonLogan1
    4/09/2015 - 05:16 p.m.

    With this exoskeleton boot has made walking easier! A good thing about this would be that it helps people walk easier. A bad thing is that you burn fewer calories and it's uncomfortable to put on. A interesting thing is that some people that study walking from humans and are trying to find a way to make it better.

  • amandam-Koc
    4/09/2015 - 06:42 p.m.

    The idea is that using this new energy-saving device is going to make easer to walk and more people is going to exercise and lost the same wieght as they were doing.

  • NJesse-Cas
    4/09/2015 - 07:41 p.m.

    This is a very interesting topic. I believe that this device will make it so that more people walk. Some people have a hard time walking, so this will reduce the problems they have and make it much easier to walk.

  • NickB-2
    4/09/2015 - 10:02 p.m.

    This article is about an exoskeleton. It is used to make walking easier. Using it allows people to burn 7% less calories when walking. Although burning less calories may seem like a bad thing, it could cause people to exercise more, in turn burning more calories. I think that this is really cool, and, when improved upon, could have huge impacts on our future.

  • austinw-Goo
    4/10/2015 - 11:44 a.m.

    This is a very interesting topic. I believe that this device will make it so that more people walk. Some people have a hard time walking, so this will reduce the problems they have and make it much easier to walk.

  • tylerr-Che
    4/10/2015 - 01:46 p.m.

    I think walking is easier than it already is because if u running and you are tired you need to walk to preserve energy for later.

  • dianaz-Che
    4/10/2015 - 01:47 p.m.

    I think that this is interesting. The fact that the prototype exoskeleton boot. makes it easier to walk is interesting. The only part that I don't like is that you wont burn as many calories.

  • GrantW-2
    4/10/2015 - 08:57 p.m.

    This article is about a exoskeleton boot that makes walking easier. These new boots make walking 7% easier. This makes walking for the obese much easier. I want to wear these awesome boots.

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