Energy recycling stairs give users a lift

Energy-recycling stairs might benefit people who need extra help by absorbing and returning their own energy, according to a new study.

Many elderly and disabled people have difficulty negotiating stairs, and existing alternatives such as elevators, stair lifts, and escalators are expensive and require a lot of energy.

The authors of the study, from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, investigated the use of energy-recycling assistive stair technology, which they hypothesised could offer a less expensive and more practical alternative for people with reduced motor function who can nonetheless negotiate stairs.

The team built a prototype of these energy-recycling stairs which used latching springs to store energy during stair descent and return it to the user during ascent. They recorded nine participants ascending and descending the stairs and analysed patterns of energy use.

Although further investigation is required, the authors suggest that the reduction in work while ascending and descending the stairs could reduce the expenditure of metabolic energy as well as muscle and joint forces that could cause pain. With the development of future low-cost, low-power prototypes, such energy-recycling stairs could be more practical and affordable than escalators or elevators.

“Current solutions for people who need help aren’t very affordable. Elevators and stair-lifts are often impractical to install at home,” said Karen Liu who worked on the project. “Low-cost, easily-installed assistive stairs could be a way to allow people to retain their ability to use stairs and not move out of their homes.”

In 2015 Japanese researchers created an assistive suit that uses pneumatic muscles to support movement in elderly people and those with physical disabilities. 

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