In the days before compact computer processing power, Man amplifiers – articulated powered exoskeletons worn by human operators – were seen as the fore-runners to autonomous robots. These units relied on the human as the control system, and joints on the frame paralleled and magnified the user’s movement. First developed by General Electric in the 1960s, limitations in joint dexterity and hydraulics led to this technology being largely abandoned whilst still in its infancy.
After the frenzied activity of the 1960s, research into man-amplifiers has quietly continued, and the recent project which perhaps best fires the imagination is Applied Motion’s SpringWalker.
This device amplifies the user’s walking gait, allowing him/her to reach speeds of 20mph and to jump upto 5ft in the air. Springwalker consists primarily of leg frames attached via tension cables to a back-mounted energy storage spring.
Downward movement of the feet causes the tension lines to pull on the spring actuator and stretch the main spring. The tension stored in the spring is then transferred back into the user’s torso and feet, causing him/her to jump into the air. Applied Motion is currently looking at ways of improving the system by incorporating electric servo motors into the design.