Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and North Carolina State University are developing a lightweight, unpowered, wearable exoskeleton that fits over the lower leg, cupping the heel and foot, which they say could reduce the energy people use to walk by 7 percent.
The exoskeleton uses a spring that mimics the Achilles tendon and a clutch that acts like calf muscles, both of which are not fueled by human energy, to increase walking efficiency. "It reduces the tension in your calf muscles so it reduces the energy you expend to maintain that force," says CMU professor Steve Collins.
Meanwhile, researchers from other institutions are developing exoskeletons to help soldiers and the disabled. For example, the U.S. military is developing the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, which is designed to feed soldiers real-time information, while making them stronger, giving them more stamina, and healing wounds. In addition, University of Bristol researchers are developing soft robotic clothing in order to give the disabled or elderly extra strength and balance.
"Someday soon, we may have simple, lightweight, and relatively inexpensive exoskeletons to help us get around--especially if we've been slowed down by injury or aging," Collins says.
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