Engineers have designed a boot-like apparatus that doesn’t require a power source to help make walking easier and more efficient, The Washington Post reports.
The one-pound prosthetic costs a couple thousand dollars to make, whereas a motorized full-body exoskeleton suit such as ReWalk “costs almost $70,000,” according to Slate. Because the boot is so lightweight and inexpensive, its creators project that it could enter the mainstream market in about a decade.
Rather than using a motor, the boot utilizes the strength of the user’s own muscles, along with a spring system, to make walking 7 percent more effective, according to Carnegie Mellon University’s website.
This reduction in energy use will result in fewer calories burned. For an obese country like the U.S., this could be a concern, The Associated Press points out.
But Steve Collins, an engineer at Carnegie Mellon University who co-authored the study, thinks we should focus more on the instrument’s potential long-term effects. When physical exercise becomes a challenge, people don’t do it as much, so perhaps this boot will allow people to exert themselves more.
“Think of nurses, emergency response workers, soldiers, or the millions of other people who walk many hours a day — 7 percent would make a difference to them,” Collins told Carnegie Mellon University’s website.
The device may look awkward and clunky, but its appearance is deceiving, suggests Gregory Sawicki, a co-author of the study and biomedical engineer and locomotion physiologist in the joint North Carolina State/University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Department of Biomedical Engineering.
“I’ll tell you, it feels really cool,” Sawicki told The Washington Post. “There’s a comfortable sort of squishiness for the first 10 minutes. But then it becomes totally transparent. Your body just integrates it.”
The current versions of the device, which are just prototypes, are custom-made to suit the people wearing them. But Collins and Sawicki hope to eventually tweak the design of the boot to make it fit for mass production.