Moving takes energy. When you walk, your muscles expand and contract as your feet hit the ground and propel you forward. Over the course of centuries, evolution has tweaked our anatomy to make these movements more and more efficient. But sometimes, being on your feet is still a drag.
Now, scientists are trying to give nature a boost with a lightweight, boot-like exoskeleton that's supposed to make walking even easier. When they put nine healthy walkers on a treadmill, the researchers found that the device decreased the amount of energy expended by about 7 percent. That may not sound like a lot, but it's about the equivalent of taking off a 10-pound backpack, the researchers report in a paper published today in the journal Nature.
The researchers say their exoskeleton is perfect for people who have to be on their feet for long periods of time, like military personnel or retail workers, or for people for whom walking has become difficult due to age or injury. (Of course, it could also turn out to be a hit among the merely lazy.) The exoskeleton is different from other mechanical wearables meant to help people move around, because it doesn't require any power source. It consists of a clutch and a spring that help absorb some of the forces your muscles usually have to deal with.
"The unpowered exoskeleton is like a catapult. It has a spring that mimics the action of your Achilles' tendon, and works in parallel with your calf muscles to reduce the load placed upon them," said Gregory Sawicki, a biomedical engineer at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in a statement. "The clutch is essential to engage the spring only while the foot is on the ground, allowing it to store and then release elastic energy. Later it automatically disengages to allow free motion while the foot is in the air."
For this study, researchers didn't have participants run in their boot-like contraption, so there's no telling how it would fare in a sprint. Also, the thing makes a lot of noise (watch the video below). So, it probably wouldn't be good for lazy ninjas.
Daniela Hernandez is a senior writer at Fusion. She likes science, robots, pugs, and coffee.