The Bionic Hiker

MIT Exoskeleton makes an 80-pound pack feel like 16

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Tired of lugging your bloated pack up steep trails? Wish there was a way to lighten your trail load without ditching the full-size camping grill or, y’know, actually getting in shape?

The whiz kids at MIT have you covered: Their biomechatronics group has invented a lightweight exoskeleton that can make a hiker wearing an 80-pound pack feel like he or she is only lugging 16 pounds around. The robotic system attaches to your shoulder straps, waist belt, thigh cuffs, and boots; it then uses a network of springs and dampers to passively transfer the weight to the ground.

Previous exoskeletons developed by researchers at Berkeley accomplished similar goals, but their version weighed over 100 pounds and consumed too much energy because of its 3,000-watt internal combustion engine. MIT’s lightweight version uses a mere two watts of power and achieves a comparable 80 percent reduction in weight. (There are a few minor negatives: The exoskeleton slightly alters the wearer’s gait, and causes a 10 percent increase in his or her oxygen intake.)

The research was funded by DARPA for use in lightening soldiers’ loads in battle, but the consumer market potential is obviously huge for backpackers. Anything that makes you look more like the Terminator on the trail is OK by me.

—Ted Alvarez

MIT Lightens the Load with Next-Gen Robot Suit (and a Hitch in Your Step) (Popular Mechanics)

Via The Goat

Image Credit: Samuel Au, MIT