Exoskeleton boot reduces cost of walking by 7%

Ever wish that early morning walk to work could be just a little bit easier? Scientists are working on it, but it's hard to improve on the body's natural gait—humans are already fine-tuned walking machines. Researchers have struggled to improve the efficiency of walking using external devices, achieving small performance boosts with assistive hardware powered by batteries. Now, scientists have developed a simple, bootlike exoskeleton that can boost a walker's efficiency without any external power source. The gadget consists of a spring that runs up the back of the calf to a clutch, which releases when the foot lifts off the ground. The spring takes some of the work away from the calf muscles, and the clutch allows the leg to move freely when in the air. The researchers tested the boot with the setup shown in the video above, measuring subjects' respiration while walking on a treadmill. The contraption reduced the cost of walking by 7%, compared with walking without assistance, according to an article published online today in Nature. The device is lighter than powered devices, weighing about half a kilogram (1.1 pounds), and the performance boost is comparable. You'd be lucky to walk a mile in these shoes.

(Video credit: Bruce Wiggin and Steve Collins)