There have been a variety of exoskeletons and exosuits developed over the past decade or so that help with rehabilitation and assist workers in doing heavy labor. Improving walking and running abilities using a single system, though, has been a challenge because of differences in gait between walking and running.
Now, researchers from Harvard and University of Nebraska Omaha have developed an exosuit that makes walking and running easier, allowing for natural and highly efficient movement at different speeds.
Powered by on-board batteries and weighing only 11 lbs (5 kg), the soft exosuit is worn around the waist and thighs, with the controller hanging on the back. It can detect whether the user is walking and running and can gently transition between the two. It works by applying tensile force between the waist and thighs using cable pulleys.
In a study on a treadmill, the researchers showed that the device lowers the metabolic rates of walking by 9.3% and of running by 4% compared with not using the exosuit. Outdoors, it helped with walking at different inclines and in a variety of environments and speeds.
The researchers do note that the metabolic reduction is not giant, but that the first prototype is really a proof of concept, and further advancements could lead to even more significant gains.
While the new device was developed with the help of the Pentagon to improve war fighting capabilities, it may end up doing more for people with walking and running problems.
Here’s a Harvard video showing off how the new exosuit works:
Study in Science: Reducing the metabolic rate of walking and running with a versatile, portable exosuit
Via: Wyss Institute