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ASU professor invents mechanical backpack to make loads feel lighter

PHOENIX — Many times, a hiker has wished for a backpack that does the heavy lifting.

Thanks to a robotics professor at Arizona State University, that wish may become a reality.

Thomas Sugar has come up with a prototype he calls the Pogo Pack, which makes a backpack feel lighter than it really is.

The backpack incorporates several battery-powered springs that drive a plate up and down. Basically, it is designed to shift the weight as the wearer walks, making a heavy load feel lighter.

“It uses one motor and a battery to oscillate up and down,” Sugar said. “We basically use an inertial sensor — like something that’s in your phone — to measure the movement of your waist and then we oscillate the backpack at the right time.”

Sugar said the backpack came about after he was contacted by Army officials to figure out a way to make soldiers’ packs seem lighter. An average infantry pack weighs between 70 and 120 pounds and the Army figured Sugar — who has experience developing exoskeleton devices — could come up with a solution.

Now that the design process is complete, Sugar said a prototype can be assembled quickly after some kinks, including cutting the device’s 12-pound weight, are sorted out. However, he told ASU News that a consumer version is still a ways off.

“Maybe, if you could get the costs down and the battery technology — you would have to somehow be able to charge those batteries for a couple of days,” he told the school. “You could carry a solar panel or some fuel and a little generator and charge batteries that way.”

Sugar floated the idea of renting the packs for long hikes — such as at the Grand Canyon — to get them into the market.

“That would be neat,” he told ASU News.

KTAR’s Tom Perumean contributed to this report.

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