Invention offers quick and giant step for mankind: A 'bicycle with legs' that promises a top speed of 25mph has caught the eye of the British Army. Phil Reeves reports

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The Independent Online
TIRED of slogging slowly back from the shops? Or being the slowest jogger in the park? Worry not - the day may not be far away when you will be able to move faster than Linford Christie over 100m.

A small Californian company, Applied Motion, is pioneering what it describes as a 'bicycle with legs', a contraption that allows humans to walk and run much faster than nature intended. The British military has expressed some interest in the device, called a SpringWalker.

The user is strapped on to an elaborate black skeleton made of aircraft steel. He places his feet on pedals which, using a system of pulleys and springs, power two long, lean legs with backward- facing 'knees'. By pumping his own legs in a walking, running or jumping motion, he strides off, eating up 10ft (3m) with every pace.

Its co-inventor, Dr John Dick, 52, a Nasa research scientist, has been working on the project part- time for six years. He and several others have spent dollars 50,000 ( pounds 27,000) to produce a prototype they are now roadtesting. His 'test pilot' and business partner, Bruce Crapuchettes, a psychologist, has only reached speeds of about 8mph so far. But they plan to install an electric power pack which they hope will allow the SpringWalker to reach 15mph. Their goal is to achieve the pace of an Olympic 100m runner - approximately 25mph, and go into mass production.

Dr Dick and his associates believe it would be an asset to the military. Soldiers could use it to manoeuvre quickly through areas not easily accessible by vehicle. He says the Army personnel research establishment at Farnborough, Hampshire, has shown interest.

Dr Crapuchettes, 54, keeps the SpringWalker prototype in his garage and uses it around his home in Pasadena, a Los Angeles suburb. The neighbours, flabbergasted at first, are growing used to seeing him wade past. Dr Dick said: 'Some people have giggled. The thing makes you look like a ostrich.' But not everyone is sniggering. Design News magazine chose it as one of the best inventions last year.

(Photograph omitted)