New Carbon Fibre Exoskeleton Improves the Way We Walk

Researchers have developed a new boot-like exoskeleton that makes walking more efficient without an extra battery or power source.

According to a new study published in Nature today, researchers have created a new device that makes walking more efficient without using an external power source. The boot style exoskeleton makes going for a wander less tiring, reducing the energy it takes to walk by up to 7%.

As early as the 1890s, inventors tried to boost the efficiency of walking by using devices such as rubber bands. More recently, engineers have built unpowered exoskeletons that enable people to do tasks such as lifting heavier weights, but do not cut down the energy they expend.

The researchers’ exoskeleton structures is built from lightweight carbon fibre materials and has a spring that connects the back of the foot to just below the back of the knee where it’s attached with a mechanical clutch. When the Achilles tendon gets stretched the clutch is engaged and the spring stretches, like a tendon storing energy. After the standing leg pushes down, unleashing elastic energy, the clutch releases and absorbs the slack in the spring, in preparation for the next cycle.

The team has been experimenting with the invention for years, but thanks to the lightweight composites they were able to cut down its weight to less than half a kilogram per leg, light enough to provide a net energetic benefit.

Further on down the road, the researchers plan to experiment with ‘smart’ clutches, which would have embedded electronics that adjust the timing of the release in response to an individual’s style of walking and perhaps also to sloping terrain. They also hope to team up with a sports company to turn their idea into a commercial product, which they hope would cost less than a pair of ski boots.