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Chaos. 2009 Jun;19(2):026112. doi: 10.1063/1.3141428.

Optimal speeds for walking and running, and walking on a moving walkway.

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Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA.


Many aspects of steady human locomotion are thought to be constrained by a tendency to minimize the expenditure of metabolic cost. This paper has three parts related to the theme of energetic optimality: (1) a brief review of energetic optimality in legged locomotion, (2) an examination of the notion of optimal locomotion speed, and (3) an analysis of walking on moving walkways, such as those found in some airports. First, I describe two possible connotations of the term "optimal locomotion speed:" that which minimizes the total metabolic cost per unit distance and that which minimizes the net cost per unit distance (total minus resting cost). Minimizing the total cost per distance gives the maximum range speed and is a much better predictor of the speeds at which people and horses prefer to walk naturally. Minimizing the net cost per distance is equivalent to minimizing the total daily energy intake given an idealized modern lifestyle that requires one to walk a given distance every day--but it is not a good predictor of animals' walking speeds. Next, I critique the notion that there is no energy-optimal speed for running, making use of some recent experiments and a review of past literature. Finally, I consider the problem of predicting the speeds at which people walk on moving walkways--such as those found in some airports. I present two substantially different theories to make predictions. The first theory, minimizing total energy per distance, predicts that for a range of low walkway speeds, the optimal absolute speed of travel will be greater--but the speed relative to the walkway smaller--than the optimal walking speed on stationary ground. At higher walkway speeds, this theory predicts that the person will stand still. The second theory is based on the assumption that the human optimally reconciles the sensory conflict between the forward speed that the eye sees and the walking speed that the legs feel and tries to equate the best estimate of the forward speed to the naturally preferred speed. This sensory conflict theory also predicts that people would walk slower than usual relative to the walkway yet move faster than usual relative to the ground. These predictions agree qualitatively with available experimental observations, but there are quantitative differences.

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