Researchers from Harvard University and the University of Nebraska Omaha have teamed up to unveil an exosuit that is very lightweight and does things many other bulkier exosuits cannot. In a paper published to Science, the research team – led by Irishman Conor Walsh – showed its exosuit could assist both walking and running.

Until now, engineers have developed robotic devices for rehabilitation and other areas of life that can assist either walking or running, but no untethered portable device could efficiently do both. The biggest challenge to overcome is the fundamentally different biomechanics of the two gaits.

What does link the two, however, is that they both involve an extension of the hip joint that starts around the time when the foot comes in contact with the ground and requires considerable energy for propelling the body forward. Testing in the lab showed the exosuit reduced the users’ metabolic rates of walking by 9.3pc and of running by 4pc compared to when they were walking and running without the device.

“While the metabolic reductions we found are modest, our study demonstrates that it is possible to have a portable wearable robot assist more than just a single activity, helping to pave the way for these systems to become ubiquitous in our lives,” said Walsh, who is also founder of the Harvard Biodesign Lab.

Colm Gorey

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