Heavy-duty exoskeletons have been developed to aid those with spinal injuries while a lightweight DARPA funded version is being designed for those who just need a little extra help getting around. Now, an even more user friendly exoskeleton model is now being proposed just for ankle support by a team from North Carolina State University and Carnegie Mellon University.
Researchers say that the “ankle exoskeleton” reduces the metabolic cost of walking by 7%, which is roughly the equivalent of taking off a 10 lb. backpack. The incredible part of the whole device is that it is completely unpowered. Scientists have long been working on engineering exoskeletons that could make walking easier, but the consistent barrier to realize this has been the difficulty of how to improve walking without adding an external power source.
The device they eventually came up with is made from lightweight carbon fiber, weighs just 500 grams and works in tandem with the body’s own muscles. This elastic exoskeleton is built using soft materials that mimic the motion of the body’s own joints. Researchers explain, “We built a lightweight elastic device that acts in parallel with the user’s calf muscles, off-loading muscle force and thereby reducing the metabolic energy consumed in contractions. The device uses a mechanical clutch to hold a spring as it is stretched and relaxed by ankle movements when the foot is on the ground, helping to fulfill one function of the calf muscles and Achilles tendon.”
The ankle device could just as easily be used for an ageing population as it could be for members of the military. In a statement, the North Carolina team also suggests those who have suffered a stroke or have had their gait impaired in some other way, would find it beneficial. A pretty cool invention for the elderly and sick, isn’t it?