Increasingly, electric motors are being incorporated into wheeled walkers to implement various smart features to better assist their users physically. These modified walkers, known as Smart Walkers, use their electric motors to generate horizontal forces that can be used to reduce the physical load for walking, prevent falls and provide navigation support. However, these forces can also alter gait and may inadvertently increase the exertion of the users. This study aims to describe the effects of assistive and resistive horizontal forces (from −18.47 N to 27.70 N) from a Smart Walker on gait and perceived exertion of its users during steady-state walking. Self-selected comfortable walking speed, cadence, stride length, double support phase and ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) were significantly affected and different effects were found for resistive force, relatively low assistive force and high assistive force. With increasing force from −18.47 N to 0 N, RPE decreased and the users walked with lower double support time. From 0 N to 9.23 N, RPE continued to decrease to its lowest point while gait parameters remained constant. Further increasing force up to 27.70 N increased RPE and led to the users to choose to walk at higher speeds. This study demonstrates that users adapt their gait significantly to the forces applied and relatively high constant forces, whether assistive or resistive, will increase perceived exertion. Hence, these need to be carefully considered when developing Smart Walkers in order to provide safe and effective support to its users.
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