Store energy and save energy
Many devices have been developed to harvest energy from walking or running, but their use often comes at cost to the wearer in the form of increased metabolic demand. Shepertycky et al. designed a device that can harvest mechanical energy from a natural walking gait and convert it to useable electrical energy while also reducing the metabolic energy consumption of the user (see the Perspective by Riemer et al.). The key to achieving “something from nothing” comes from designing the device to use muscle-centric control of the knee exoskeleton resistance to reduce active muscle force during the late part of the leg swing cycle.
Evolutionary pressures have led humans to walk in a highly efficient manner that conserves energy, making it difficult for exoskeletons to reduce the metabolic cost of walking. Despite the challenge, some exoskeletons have managed to lessen the metabolic expenditure of walking, either by adding or storing and returning energy. We show that the use of an exoskeleton that strategically removes kinetic energy during the swing period of the gait cycle reduces the metabolic cost of walking by 2.5 ± 0.8% for healthy male users while converting the removed energy into 0.25 ± 0.02 watts of electrical power. By comparing two loading profiles, we demonstrate that the timing and magnitude of energy removal are vital for successful metabolic cost reduction.