Exoskeleton Boots Put a Literal Spring in Your Step
They make it feel like you've just dropped your backpack, researcher says
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Apr 2, 2015 8:26 AM CDT
The exoskeleton boot in action.   (AP Photo, Lisa Lau, Carnegie Mellon University Experimental Biomechatronics Lab)

(Newser) – Tired of the agony of placing one foot in front of the other all on your own? A new boot is coming to the rescue: It improves the efficiency of the human stride by 7%, as the BBC reports, "showing that there is room for improvement in our already very well-tuned gait." The device acts as an exoskeleton, using a ratchet and spring system to make it feel as though you've dropped a 10-pound backpack, researchers say. The advancement centers on the fact that in normal walking, the calf muscle has to do work beyond just moving us forward, a press release notes. It also works like a clutch on the Achilles tendon—a process which, of course, uses precious energy. "It's as if every time you push on the brake pedal in your car, you burn a little bit of gas," researcher Steve Collins says.

The boot helps handle this work with its own mechanical clutch that engages when the wearer's foot touches the ground; it releases again when the foot is lifted. The Washington Post compares the process to the working of a catapult. Previous efforts have led to other devices to assist with walking, but this one is particularly remarkable because it doesn't need outside power, the Verge reports. It's also extremely lightweight and fits in a running shoe. "Our study shows that walking, a highly evolved human task, can be improved by man-made technology and engineering," another researcher notes. More work is needed, Collins tells the BBC, but "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." (Meanwhile, our phones could help fix vision problems.)