An article by Tom Whipple in The Times today (May 12, 2016) reports on a set of powered trousers designed by Panizollo et al. and described in an article published today by the Journal of Neuroengineering and Rehabilitation: “A biologically-inspired multi-joint soft exosuit that can reduce the energy cost of loaded walking“.
The authors conclude:
Our results demonstrate that an autonomous soft exosuit can reduce the metabolic burden experienced by load carriers, possibly augmenting their overall gait performance.
The overall reduction in work associated with walking is around seven per cent—”something you can just about feel”, according to one of the authors (Walsh), quoted in The Times. That’s in line with previous studies of other devices, which the authors mention in the Discussion section of their paper (my link takes you to the full-text, Open Access article).
Whipple sees an application to hillwalking:
It will be just enough, in other words, that you can turn up at your local Ramblers’ Association and make the other walkers feel inadequate, without also making them suspicious.
All this is very gratifying to me, since I invented the device (fictionally, at least) a good 23 years ago, when I wrote a story entitled “Lachlan and the Bionic Long-Johns”, in which my hero Lachlan McLoughlin takes on various hill challenges while wearing something rather similar. My version worked rather better (that’s the joy of fiction, of course), and you can see it in action in Chris Tyler‘s lovely cartoon on the rear cover of my (long out-of-print) book Munro’s Fables (TACit Press, 1993):(You can nowadays find the story in the e-book The Complete Lachlan or the paperback The Complete Lachlan & Walking Types.)