Queen’s University researchers take steps to make walking easier

KINGSTON — Scientists at Queen’s University are making great strides in improving body movement, and possible medicine in the future, by creating a unique exoskeleton.

“It can assist people in using less calories while walking,” says Michael Shepertycky, with the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

Created by a team of researchers at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., the exoskeleton looks like a backpack, and it has two cables that extend down to attach at the ankles.

Qingguo Li, an associate professor in the mechanical and materials engineering department, jokes it’s “something you’d see from science fiction movies.”

“You know like Spider-Man,” he says in an interview with CTV News Ottawa. “In the last few years everything (out of comics) has become real life.”

Those who wear it burn fewer calories, and it makes walking further and longer easier on the body, says Shepertycky.

“For, lets say, nurses at the end of your shift, they could come home less tired, or for hikers at the end of their day of hiking, they could have enough energy to set up camp,” he explains.

Shepertycky says as the leg swings forward, muscles naturally convert kinetic energy into heat. The cables connecting the device to the ankles take that heat kinetic energy and and push it through the generator. This helps eases the cost of walking on the body.

Other exoskeletons exist, but Li says those transfer the created energy to another part of your body, while this device removes it completely.

They are also much heavier, requiring a battery. This device weighs just over half a kilogram, says Sherpertycky. He says that makes it more practical for everyday use.

The scientists hope it can help make real strides in the future science of walking too. Li says the same principles could one day help those who need assistance with walking and mobility.

“This kind of device can help us further understanding about how humans can walk,” explains Li. “And eventually understanding how people with disabilities walk, leading to new development.”

It can also convert the energy into electricity, and could charge a cell phone or a GPS, which would help those travelling through remote areas.

The prototype is ten years in the making. It has also caught international attention, being published for review in the world renowned journal Science.

Shepertycky says they hope to see the unique exoskeleton on store shelves one day for people to use.

“It’s pretty exciting,” he says.

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