Engineers from the Georgia Institute of Technology developed an invention that will make climbing stairs easier by recycling the energy spent by the individual to do so. Referred to its creators as “energy-recycling assistive stairs,” the invention is mainly targeted at the elderly and arthritis patients, both of whom usually have difficulties climbing traditional stairs. While stairlifts and elevators can be used to help the elderly move from one floor to another, they are not always the most suitable solution due to energy costs associated with operating such equipment and the extensive house remodeling required for the installation of elevators and stairlifts. The use of such means of transport may further cripple the elderly in the long run, as the disuse of motor functions will just accelerate muscle degradation, many experts believe. Taking those things into consideration, Georgia Tech researchers developed a device that will make climbing stairs easier while preventing further loss of one’s already inhibited motor functions.
The energy-recycling assistive stairs are comprised of modules, each of which contains pressure sensors, springs, and latches. The springs will be used to temporarily store the energy and then push the person’s leg upward, which should reduce the force needed to raise the feet and move to the next step. In addition, the springs absorb the impact of the person’s leg once it hits the step, further reducing the energy spent by the person being assisted. Based on the researcher’s measurements, the assistive stairs managed to reduce the energy spent by the individual by around 26 percent while boosting the person’s force by around 37 percent when taking another step.
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Any potential applications of this device would still be limited if it couldn’t be easily installed in the homes of those who need it. Georgia Tech engineers considered this situation and designed their invention with modularity in mind. The stair modules can be customized in terms of shape and size, allowing the invention to be placed on top of already existing stairs. Aside from making the stairs easy to install, the entire setup can also be cheap to build and operate. Based on the materials used, each module can cost less than $50 and require only five Watts of power.