MIT's Exoskeleton is not Just for Lazy Buggers

Although exoskeletons are nothing new &mdash remember the Bleex? &mdash the Biomechatronics Group from MIT's Media Lab has come up with a smaller, more discrete number. Although it can only carry 80 pounds (compared to the Bleex's upper limit of 220 pounds), associate professor Hugh Herr hopes that in the future, exoskeletons will be another way of getting around. "Our dream is that 20 years from now, people won't go to bike racks, they'll go to leg racks" he says.

On paper, the exoskeleton idea rocks. You put your feet in the boots, which are attached by a series of tubes running up your legs to a backpack, and transfer the weight of the backpack to the ground. Springs at the ankle and hip, and a damping device at the knee, mimic human movement, with a one-watt power input.

Although the exoskellington [sic] does lighten the load, the MIT guinea pigs found they were using 10 percent more oxygen than normal, as the kit impeded their normal way of walking. It's back to the drawing board for the Biomechatronics Group, but they are confident that, in its second incarnation, the DARPA-funded device will mimic a human leg more closely than before.