Health Care

Recycling stairs put a spring in each upward step

Recycling stairs put a spring in each upward step”

"Take the stairs!" we've all been implored, to help maintain our health. And as people lose mobility with age, injury or disease, it becomes more challenging.

"Stair negotiation is ranked among the top 5 most hard tasks in community-residing older adults", wrote the researchers.

Co-author Lena Ting, a biomedical engineer at Georgia Tech and Emory University, said walking down stairs is like "tapping the brakes of your vehicle while revving the engine".

The researchers are looking for partners to extend the project, which now runs on a staircase with only two steps and can be used by just one person at a time. The exoskeleton is worn like a brace on the ankle and reduces the energy required of the wearer during walking.

These steps lift the leg up when a person ascends on them using recycled energy.

Right now, only one person can use the stairs at a time (you can't walk down them and up them at the simultaneously). The ankle brace helps with both of these jobs.

She initially thought a shoe that could store and release energy could work, but realised it would not be something her mother would wear, so instead designed smart stairs. Could the stairs themselves be modified? He pointed out that unlike level walking, climbing the stairs requires nearly pure propulsion and no braking by our muscles, so no energy can actually be stored.

The stairs use springs to absorb energy when someone walks down them and then releases it again when they walk back up, lifting their feet upwards to assist them as they ascend. I thought the idea was insane, but agreed to let Yun Seong Song, a talented mechanical engineer at Missouri University of Science and Technology who was a postdoctoral researcher in my lab at the time, work on the idea.

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Assembled from a set of springs, sensors, latches and tread that only moves up and down, the steps are energy efficient and do not require a bulky motor.

Energy-recycling stairs may assist people with stair negotiation by absorbing and returning their own energy, according to a study published July 12, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Yun Seoung Song from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, USA.

A group of mechanical and biomedical engineers, along with computer scientists from Georgia Tech and Emory University, have built what they call "energy-recycling stairs" that compress when someone steps downwards onto them, saving energy by dampening the impact. We measured a 27 percent reduction in ankle braking torque of the trailing leg, which lowers the body going down the stairs.

The technology reduced the workload during an ascent by 17 percent overall and the work of the knee joint by 37 percent.

The prototype is still limited in other ways.

At some point, most people will know the pain of a daily commute that involves multiple flights of stairs, life on a fifth-floor walkup, or a temperamental office elevator. ERAS might also help mitigate falls - a major hazard when going down the stairs because braking against gravity is challenging for many.

And to their surprise, the stairs descent served a dual goal. "Elevators and stair-lifts are often impractical to install at home", said Karen Liu, an associate professor in Georgia Tech's School of Interactive Computing. With the development of future low-cost, low-power prototypes, such energy-recycling stairs could be more practical and affordable than escalators or elevators.

This energy is then returned on the way back up as they rise with the user's foot as they step up. This low-priced device - the details of which were published in the journal PLoS ONE - could help older people remain mobile and stay in their homes longer.

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