Nautilus

New Exoskeletons Will Harness the Subtle Anatomy of Human Balance

The bones and bodies of the Kenyan women had adjusted to perfectly support the head weight in the most energy efficient manner, aligning in an ideal formation to keep the weight off the muscles.Photograph by Kim Steele / Getty

In the 1980s, a bioengineer named Norm Heglund was doing field work in Kenya, hoping to uncover the secrets of locomotion. It was a good gig. Heglund and his team spent their days shooting wild animals with tranquilizer darts in Kenya’s national parks then dragging them back to a research station, run by the East Africa Veterinary Research Organization, in nearby Muguga for testing.

Every day, the wives of local colleagues stopped by the lab to chit chat. They carried impossibly huge bundles of food, clothing, or other supplies perfectly balanced on top of their heads. During one lunch break, a few weeks into his stay, he realized something.

“These weren’t little loads,” Heglund told me when I spoke to

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