Are We Built to Be Lazy?
A quick visit to Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks shows just how many ways humans (or at least British comedians) can think of to travel from point A to point B. So why don’t we high kick our way to the bus stop or skip to the grocery store? New research suggests that there may be a deep biomechanical reason governing the gaits we choose in different situations, and understanding it could help scientists design better prosthetic limbs and even build more humanlike robots.
From previous experiments done on treadmills, scientists know that people consistently transition between walking and running when they are traveling 2 to 3 meters per second. The reason it feels “natural” to change gaits at that speed is because your body and brain automatically try to minimize the amount of energy you have to expend getting from place to place. Below about 2.3 m/s, walking requires less energy. Above it, it takes less energy to run.
Walking on a treadmill that dictates your speed, however, isn’t a perfect model for how you move when you’re strolling through your neighborhood. Researchers at the Movement Lab at Ohio State University (OSU), Columbus, wondered whether we naturally move in a way that minimizes energy when we’re out in the real world.