Backpack Isolates Load for Better Carrying Ability

A researcher has developed a better backpack. Instead of the weight shifting up and down with your body, it is suspended in place with bungee cords and remains almost motionless while your body moves around. The pack is said to make it easier to run with large loads.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And every Monday, our business report focuses on technology. Today, lifting a burden. A lot of kids are home this week taking a vacation from schoolwork and their heavy backpacks. Those bags may someday feel much lighter thanks to a scientist who's invented a new backpack. It suspends the weight on bungee cords.

NPR's Nell Boyce reports.

NELL BOYCE: Larry Rome has two sons. One of them is a sophomore in high school.

Professor LARRY ROME (Biology, University of Pennsylvania): And he's taking all these advanced placement courses and they essentially have college textbooks. These huge things, they weigh a ton.

BOYCE: And his younger son in middle school usually lugs around 20 pounds or more. Now, Rome is a scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. He studies how fish swim and how frogs jump. But a couple of years ago, he designed a backpack that could generate electricity as a person walks. And now he's thought of a way to make another pack, one that lightens a load. Unlike a regular pack, the weight is not held tightly against the body.

Prof. ROME: It's suspended by a very, very long bungee cord that is strung up inside of the frame of the backpack.

BOYCE: Because the weight is suspended, it barely moves up and down as a person walks.

Prof. ROME: The person is going up and down, but the load is staying still.

BOYCE: He says the result feels dramatic, especially when you're running. Say, in a normal backpack, you carry 48 pounds. For the same physical effort in this backpack, you could carry 60 pounds.

Prof. ROME: So, essentially, it gives you the possibility of carrying 12 extra pounds of whatever you need for free.

BOYCE: Rome describes his invention in the journal Nature. Other experts say the design looks impressive. Rodger Kram studies biomechanics at the University of Colorado Boulder. He expects that springy backpacks will get used first by people who often have to run while carrying a heavy load.

Professor RODGER KRAM (Biomechanics, University of Colorado Boulder): Marine-types, soldier-types, EMTs, that's sort of thing. It seems like a really good idea.

BOYCE: Later, Kram says, the idea could find its way into school bags for kids. Larry Rome has founded a company, Lightning Packs, to commercialize his springy design. So far, though, it's only built a few prototypes.

Nell Boyce, NPR News.

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