New Invention Boosts Walking


In the last 20 years the field of bionics has seen some fantastic advances but most devices require a power source to run them, making them cumbersome and prone to downtime. Scientists are now going back to basics, using the principals of mechanics to achieve improved body functions without requiring external power supplies.

This latest invention uses a spring and clutch mechanism to add a 7% gain in efficiency to a person’s step, effectively removing a 4kg weight from their body.

The inventors of the exoskeleton device said that “it boosts the performance of the calf muscles and the Achilles tendon by absorbing small amounts of energy when the foot hits the ground, releasing it again when the foot is lifted through the air.”

Legbarce Infographic

“The inexpensive, lightweight device could have important uses for people who find it difficult to walk for long periods after illness, and might one day help long-distance walkers and runners”, said Steven Collins, a mechanical engineer at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Previous research focused on robotic like attachments that required batteries, computers and downtime would costs users between; $40,000 to $80,000 but this new device is simple to construct an only costs a few hundred dollars.

“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 ageing,” Dr Collins said.

The All Important Clutch
The All Important Clutch

Gregory Sawicki, a biomechanical engineer at North Carolina State University and co-author of the study, said that the unpowered exoskeleton works “like a catapult” to reduce the load placed on the calf muscles and Achilles’ tendons.

With future research the scientists are confident that further gains can be achieved and their devices can be used to help people suffering from injuries, fatigue, old age and even possibly law enforcement. 

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