PHILADELPHIA Old Saint Nick might very well be able to run from rooftop to rooftop without reindeer this year, if only he carried toys in a backpack like the one developed by biologists at the University of Pennsylvania.
In this week's edition of the journal Nature, Penn researchers have announced details for a suspended-load ergonomic backpack that reduces the force of a backpack's load on the wearer by 86%, allowing wearers to run far more comfortably with heavy loads.
While it might be useful for Santa, the backpack was created with soldiers and emergency workers in mind and could prevent the sort of muscle and joint injuries associated with running while carrying heavy items. The Penn researchers also point out that the backpack will also benefit schoolchildren, since heavy book bags have been linked to muscle and orthopedic injury.
"For the same energetic cost, you can either carry 48 pounds in a normal backpack or 60 pounds in a suspended-load ergonomic backpack," Larry Rome, a professor in Penn's Department of Biology, said. "It is like carrying an extra 12 pounds for free.'"
The backpack is based on a rigid frame pack, much like the type familiar to hikers everywhere; however, rather than being rigidly attached to the frame, the sack carrying the load is suspended from the frame by bungee cords.
Last year, Rome, an expert in the physics of muscle movement, introduced a power-generating backpack that converts mechanical energy from walking into as much as 7.4 watts of electricity, more than enough energy to power a number of portable electronic devices at once. His findings were published in Science.
The suspended-load ergonomic backpack has a similar sliding motion as the electricity generating-backpack, but it is tuned differently. Rather than having stiff springs, the load is suspended by very compliant bungee cords.