We modified an irreducibly simple model of passive dynamic walking to walk on level ground, and used it to study the energetics of walking and the preferred relationship between speed and step length in humans. Powered walking was explored using an impulse applied at toe-off immediately before heel strike, and a torque applied on the stance leg. Although both methods can supply energy through mechanical work on the center of mass, the toe-off impulse is four times less costly because it decreases the collision loss at heel strike. We also studied the use of a hip torque on the swing leg that tunes its frequency but adds no propulsive energy to gait. This spring-like actuation can further reduce the collision loss at heel strike, improving walking energetics. An idealized model yields a set of simple power laws relating the toe-off impulses and effective spring constant to the speed and step length of the corresponding gait. Simulations incorporating nonlinear equations of motion and more realistic inertial parameters show that these power laws apply to more complex models as well.
Walking like an inverted pendulum reduces muscle-force and work demands during single support, but it also unavoidably requires mechanical work to redirect the body's center of mass in the transition between steps, when one pendular motion is substituted by the next. Production of this work exacts a proportional metabolic cost that is a major determinant of the overall cost of walking.
We have developed a biomechanical energy harvester that generates electricity during human walking with little extra effort. Unlike conventional human-powered generators that use positive muscle work, our technology assists muscles in performing negative work, analogous to regenerative braking in hybrid cars, where energy normally dissipated during braking drives a generator instead. The energy harvester mounts at the knee and selectively engages power generation at the end of the swing phase, thus assisting deceleration of the joint. Test subjects walking with one device on each leg produced an average of 5 watts of electricity, which is about 10 times that of shoe-mounted devices. The cost of harvesting-the additional metabolic power required to produce 1 watt of electricity-is less than one-eighth of that for conventional human power generation. Producing substantial electricity with little extra effort makes this method well-suited for charging powered prosthetic limbs and other portable medical devices.
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