These boots were made for walking (more effectively).
A new exoskeleton boot developed by Hugh Herr and his team at the MIT Media Lab could make walking a less tiring process, whether it’s for a long day of city strolling, for soldiers covering harsh terrain by foot, or for helping people relearn how to walk during physical therapy. It’s described in a paper in the latest issue of the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation.
The device consists of little more than fibreglass struts attached to boots. Small motors alternately tension and release the struts in time with your walking pace, effectively multiplying the work you put into moving. This means it takes less energy to walk, even when you are carrying extra weight.
Here’s what it looks like in action:
The researchers had test subjects walk on a treadmill while wearing a 50-pound weighted vest. Researchers recorded how much oxygen the subjects inhaled and how much carbon dioxide they exhaled in order to establish a metabolic rate, a measure of the energy the person used to move while wearing the vest.
Then the experiment was repeated with the subjects wearing both the vest and the exoskeleton, and the results showed that the exoskeleton drastically reduced the energy required to walk while carrying a load. The 50-pound vest actually felt like 35 pounds when subjects were wearing the boots, because they bore 30% of the load.
“This is the first exoskeleton that actually augments human walking and significantly reduces metabolic cost,” Herr said in a press release. “Subjects noticed that their legs felt heavier and awkward when they took the exoskeleton off.”
This means that the exoskeleton can make it easier to carry things you already carry, or it can enable you to carry heavier things using the same amount of energy.
The exoskeleton detects when to jump into action — you just need to walk normally in order to get its benefits. If you stand still, there is tension between the struts and the motor worn below the knee. Take a step and the motor pulls the top of the struts forward. This torques the bottom outward, and as the bottom is fixed to the boots, that’s where you get the benefit of the device’s assistance.
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