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 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 (2)
  • Steve0620-yyca
    10/08/2015 - 09:08 p.m.

    I think that people are making new inventions that will benefit others. This device helps people to walk so that when they are tired it helps them too walk by making it easier. I think that many people will use this design and it will help them. This technology is part of the exoskeleton and which coves below the knee at the leg.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    6/16/2016 - 02:19 p.m.

    The walking boot device had been able to make walking 7 percent easier which people would be able to make hard walking and biking to be easier but at first walking and biking were hard for people and they stop doing those things. The boot had been able to make more people to be doing things that are hard for them to do. The engineers had been able to make the device which would be something that people would be able to when they are trying to do something hard. The way that people would like to exercise is that they would be able to exercise more easily with the walking boot device.
    Critical Thinking Question: How might this energy-saving device make our country healthier?
    Answer: I know how the energy-saving device make our country healthier because walking and biking had been hard for people to do and they stop doing them but the energy-saving device would be able to get 7 percent easier to do things that are hard to do.

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