The backpack’s exoskeleton makes walking easier by relieving the knee muscles

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Walking upright is one of the things that make us human, but it’s not the most efficient form of transportation.

Now researchers in Canada have developed a lightweight exoskeleton that reduces the amount of energy it takes to walk.

The device, most of which is housed in a backpack, can enable a person to continue walking without getting tired.

The exoskeleton also absorbs the wearer’s kinetic energy while walking and could generate electrical current quickly enough to charge a smartphone or other small devices.

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Researchers at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario have developed a lightweight exoskeleton that reduces the amount of energy required to walk by 3.3 percent

Researchers at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario have developed a lightweight exoskeleton that reduces the amount of energy required to walk by 3.3 percent

For bipedals like humans, the sequence from when one foot hits the ground to when that same foot hits again is called “a walking cycle.”

Most exoskeletons transfer energy from one phase of the gait cycle to another.

‘Walking is a delicate and highly optimized process, making it difficult to use exoskeletons to improve walking efficiency’ says Qingguo Li, a professor of mechanical and materials science at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

But according to research published today in the journal Sciencethe device invented by Li’s team removes energy from the cycle and aids the knee muscles during the ‘terminal swing,’ or final phase of walking, when your shin is forward and your foot is on the point on the ground touches.

The exoskeleton weighs about 1.5 kg and is compact enough to fit in a normal backpack

The exoskeleton weighs about 1.5 kg and is compact enough to fit in a normal backpack

“Removing energy from a person’s legs while walking may sound unintuitive, like putting the brakes on a moving car,” added the study’s lead author Michael Shepertycky of the university’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“But our muscles naturally remove energy as we walk, and our equipment helps them do that.”

The prototype is compact and lightweight – just over 1.5kg – and fits in a simple backpack, with two thin cables running along the body and tied around the legs.

Two thin cables run down from the backpack and are stretched around the legs.  As a foot pivots forward, a cable spins an electrical generator, creating a small amount of resistance

Two thin cables run down from the backpack and are stretched around the legs. As a foot pivots forward, a cable spins an electrical generator, creating a small amount of resistance

As one foot pivots forward, the cable spins an electrical generator, creating a small amount of resistance.

The device was tested on subjects on a treadmill and reduced the metabolic effort required to walk by 3.3 percent.

The team believes the device has numerous practical uses, such as helping relieve nurses, waiters, mail carriers, teachers and others who are on their feet for long hours.

The team believes the device can help relieve nurses, postmen and others who spend long hours on their feet.

The team believes the device can help relieve nurses, postmen and others who spend long hours on their feet.

“We might be able to help run and break some marathon records,” Shepertycky said New scientist. “It’s hard to say.”

The engineers are even working on giving it a bonus feature: the energy drawn from the wearer’s gait is converted into enough electricity to power both the backpack’s control system and a cell phone or other portable device.

The package converts the energy extracted from the wearer's gait pattern into electricity.  The researchers hope to generate fast enough to power the operating system and a cell phone

The package converts the energy taken from the wearer’s gait pattern into electricity. The researchers hope to generate fast enough to power the operating system and a cell phone

At the moment it only produces about 0.25 watts, not enough to charge a night light.

But Shepertycky is confident that with some tweaks they will improve that significantly.

He calls the prototype “a significant advance in exoskeleton development.”

‘For the first time we have shown that removing energy can increase running efficiency.’

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