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Photo of the avatar - a torso equipped with two legs with feet.
New avatar-based software developed at EPFL looks at how people walk in order to predict their energy expenditure. The software, originally intended for roboticists and for researchers who develop prosthetics and exoskeletons, could have many uses in both medicine and sports. It can be tested online through a downloadable app. (Credit: EPFL)

Researchers studied eight gait parameters in order to come up with a very sophisticated software program that uses an avatar to predict how much energy people use when they walk depending on their walking style. The software could be used to design exoskeletons or custom prosthetics.

The avatar — a torso equipped with two legs with feet — can be freely configured. Users start by entering their height and weight and can then set the walking speed, distance between their feet (stride length and stride width), and foot lift, along with the incline of both the torso and the ground. They can also add mass and simulate the effect of being pushed or pulled at different parts of the body. The number of calories burned and the energy consumption are displayed in real time whenever the parameters are modified.

This pioneering software drew on a number of experiments appearing in recent literature, and it offers a huge number of potential applications — especially in the medical realm. “The software could be used to select the best design for an exoskeleton or a custom prosthetic, in order to reduce the user's effort. With a wearable exoskeleton, for example, we could optimize the location of the battery and actuators, or determine the ideal walking pattern for the user’s preferred speed,” says Amy Wu, the study’s co-lead author. The software could even determine where a backpack should be worn in order to minimize energy expenditure.”

The software was created in a robotics lab and was initially intended to study the mechanics of human gait for use in humanoid robots.

An application can be downloaded in order to try out the simulator here: https://biorob.epfl.ch/research/humanoid/walkman. A video of the software can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=29&v=vepGyzpIEV4

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