Scientists Have Created an Exosuit That Helps You Walk and Run Simultaneously

Need a little extra push up a hill, or when going between walking and running? This suit will do just that.
Fabienne Lang
The light-weight versatile exosuitWyss Institute at Harvard University

Ever felt tired walking a long-distance either uphill or on a long flat surface? How about when you run? That would make you human.

What if you were told these actions could be made more easily? Scientists have created an exosuit that helps you with walking and running, making the experience an easier one.

Exoskeletons that assist people with walking, and others with running already exist. The difference with this exosuit is that it can assist people moving between both movements.

Scientists from the Wyss Institute at Harvard UniversityJohn A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and the University of Nebraska Omaha have created this robotic invention, and the study was published in the journal Science.

Reducing your metabolic rate while walking or running

The portable lightweight exosuit, weighing only five kilograms (11 pounds), specifically targets hip extension movements, during both walking and running. 

There's a mobile actuation system at the back of the suit, controlled by an algorithm that can correctly gauge whether the user is walking or running. It then adapts its usability to suit the correct movements.  

What happened when people walked or ran with the exosuit?

Their metabolic rate went down. 

For those walking, it dropped by 9.3%, and for runners, it went down by 4%, compared to if they walked or ran without the device. 

"We were excited to see that the device also performed well during uphill walking, at different running speeds and during overground testing outside, which showed the versatility of the system,” said Conor Walsh, Ph.D., who led the study.

"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," continued Walsh.

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Scientists Have Created an Exosuit That Helps You Walk and Run Simultaneously
The team’s portable exosuit is made of textile components worn at the waist and thighs, and a mobile actuation system attached to the lower back which uses an algorithm that robustly predicts transitions between walking and running gaits. Source: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

One of the biggest challenges the team faced when creating the suit was how it would distinguish between walking and running. The exosuit had to change its actuation to match the new gait, without interfering with the user's movements. 

The team is working on reducing the weight of the device even more.

As Walsh closed, he said, "We are excited to continue to apply it to a range of applications, including assisting those with gait impairments, industry workers at risk of injury performing physically strenuous tasks, or recreational weekend warriors."

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