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. 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. 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 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. 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 biomechanical engineering professor Andy Ruina at Cornell University. He 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, 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 (94)
  • 21tnmccl
    4/09/2015 - 12:06 p.m.

    I think this would be really cool because if it helps you walk then go ahead and try it! Its sometimes its hard for me to walk because I have tendinitis in my knee, but I dont think this would help for that though.

  • 21pcnobl
    4/09/2015 - 12:10 p.m.

    I think it is stupid if you think about it sounds like it doesn't help lose weight, because if it is calorie burning free then you wouldn't lose weight you would gain weight.

  • ChaseG-5
    4/09/2015 - 01:08 p.m.

    This article is about an exoskeleton boot that reduces energy spent on walking. This is controversial because you will not burn as many calories while wearing the boot. It saves your energy by 7%. Many engineers made this as a challenge rather than a new product. I think that this new boot will not be the next big thing. It is a step in the right direction however.

  • kaylacoly2015
    4/09/2015 - 02:08 p.m.

    I think that this boot that helps you walk is not good because you want to burn off calories, but its good because if your having a hard time walking it helps you walk.

  • kaidenfoly2015
    4/09/2015 - 02:09 p.m.

    I think the exoskeleton leg is a great idea for people that hurt while walking, biking, or exercising.I know it is not fun when you can not get out and do anything so i think this product is an awesome idea for anyone.

  • isiahholy2015
    4/09/2015 - 02:12 p.m.

    i dont get why people dont just walk dont need technoligy to do it kids learn how to walk at a young age and should be walking the old fashon way no techneogly

  • 13Maria-May
    4/09/2015 - 02:43 p.m.

    Well that is smart but I think that people are lazy if they want to make walking eaiser. People these days really need to get outside and make a difference.

  • ethannOly2015
    4/09/2015 - 02:48 p.m.

    I believe this is a very very cool idea but kind of strange, it seems as if its just making yourself sort of lazier. i can refer to this because a game i play uses "Exo-skeletons". but this actually a neat thing that i though would never happen.

  • landonsoly2015
    4/09/2015 - 02:51 p.m.

    I don't really like this invention. It's a smart idea but people shouldn't need help walking unless they are disabled. People also will get better exercise if they have to use more muscles not less.

  • GriffinO-5
    4/09/2015 - 04:39 p.m.

    Recently engineers have created an motor-free device that is used to make walking easier. The device reduces the energy required to walk by 7% and makes it so you burn less calories. The idea is that because our nation's population is mostly obese, they created a device to encourage people to exercise. Since it makes it easier people will move more and even though they burn less calories will walking, if they move enough they will eventually burn a sufficient amount of calories.
    I think that it's pretty cool that they invented this device, but is 7% sufficient enough for people who don't want to walk to walk more?

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