Cost of transport

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The energy cost of transport quantifies the energy efficiency of transporting an animal or vehicle from one place to another. As a dimensionless quantity, it allows for the comparison of dissimilar animals or modes of transportation. It has a wide range of applications, from comparing human gaits to observing the change in efficiency of trains over time.

It is calculated in one of two ways, both shown in the following definition:

where is the energy input to the system, which has mass , that is used to move the system a distance , and is Standard gravity. Alternatively, one can use the power input to the system used to move the system at a constant velocity . The cost of transport is non-dimensional.

It is also called specific tractive force or specific resistance (see von Kármán–Gabrielli diagram), or the energy index.[citation needed] When the energy comes from metabolic processes (i.e., for animals), it is often called the metabolic cost of transport.

The metabolic cost of transport includes the basal metabolic cost of maintaining bodily function, and so goes to infinity as speed goes to zero.[1] A human achieves the lowest cost of transport when walking at about 6 kilometres per hour (3.7 mph), at which speed a person of 70 kilograms (150 lb) has a metabolic rate of about 450 watts.[1] This gives a dimensionless cost of transport of about 0.39. If only the additional metabolic cost (above the resting rate) is counted then the most efficient speed will be lower. The optimal speed if both energy and distance traveled in a given time are taken into account (with some "price" for each) may be faster or slower than the speed giving the lowest COT.

Running entails a higher cost of transport, but one which does not depend very much on speed up to the maximum speed of endurance running (about 6 metres per second (22 km/h), see graph).[2]


  1. ^ a b Venkatraman Radhakrishnan (May 12, 1998). "Locomotion: Dealing with friction". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 95 (10): 5448–5455. doi:10.1073/pnas.95.10.5448. PMC 20397. PMID 9576902.
  2. ^ Dennis Bramble; Daniel Lieberman (Nov 18, 2004). "Endurance running and the evolution of Homo". Nature. 432 (7015): 345–52. doi:10.1038/nature03052. PMID 15549097.