Carnegie Mellon University researcher Steve Collins, BS, PhD, and his collaborator Greg Sawicki, PhD, at North Carolina State University have developed a lightweight, unpowered, wearable exoskeleton (the walking assistant clutch) built to reduce the energy cost of human walking, according to a Carnegie Mellon University news release. The release reports that the wearable boot-like apparatus, when attached to the foot and ankle, reduces the energy expended in walking by around 7%.

An article about the device appears in the journal Nature

 The release notes that the walking assist clutch is also lightweight and requires no power source.

Watch a video of the technology in action

The ability to spend less energy walking could benefit individuals that include “nurses, emergency response workers, soldiers, or the millions of other people who walk many hours a day—7% would make a difference to them,” Collins points out in the release.

The release adds that individuals with disabilities or those who are recovering from injuries may also benefit from the technology.

While Collins cautions against excessive speculation, he remains optimistic, noting, “Someday soon we may have simple, lightweight, and relatively inexpensive exoskeletons to help us get around, especially if we’ve been slowed down by injury or aging.”

The device uses a spring designed to act as the Achilles’ tendon and a clutch that mimics the calf muscles.

Sawicki, a biomedical engineer at North Carolina University and co-author of the article, explains that the unpowered exoskeleton “works in parallel with your muscles, thereby decreasing muscle force and the metabolic energy needed for contractions.”

According to the release, the device reduces the load placed on the calf muscles, and the spring then stores and releases elastic energy. The clutch engages the spring while the foot is on the ground, disengaging it while the foot is in the air.

To learn more, read this press release from North Carolina State University

[Source: Carnegie Mellon University]