Engineers at Stanford University have developed a new electric exoskeleton that can be tied to a user’s leg to make running easier. In its current form, it may not allow users to jog to the park, but may end up being used as a last-mile mode of transportation.
The exoskeleton design is human, whether it’s helping wheelchair users walk again, protecting older people from falls, or keeping industrial workers from fatigue. But Stanford University’s newly designed exoskeleton is better suited to making running more attractive, or making travel more practical.
In its current form, it is still a “simulator” for exoskeleton, which means it is a massive machine that can only be used on laboratory treadmills. But the idea behind the tests conducted by the Stanford team was to see if the mechanism would help and how much it would work before turning the device into a fully wearable device.
It’s a good thing that they did these early tests because the results surprised scientists. The team tested two different auxiliary modes: electric and spring assist. Although the former shows hope, the latter actually makes it harder to run.
Because human legs move like springs when running, researchers believe that a spring-like pattern of storing and unloading energy would help. But interestingly, they found that it was 11 percent more difficult to run than without exoskeleton. However, the electric mode is more advantageous. In this mode, the motor pulls a cable to the back of the leg and extends the ankle as the toes leave the ground. In a treadmill test of 11 experienced runners, the team found that this approach made it 15 percent easier to run than without exoskeleton. It also increases runners’ speed by 10%.
“Power assist reduces many of the energy burdens of the calf muscles,” said Delaney Miller, who was involved in the study. “It’s very resilient compared to normal running. In experience, it feels really good. When the device provides this help, you feel like you can keep running. “
That’s the team’s goal. If the final version of the device is unrestricted, the researchers hope it will encourage more people to run.
“You can almost think of it as a means of transportation, ” said Guan Rongtan, the study’s author. When you get off the bus, tie up the exoskeleton and walk the last mile or two in 5 minutes without sweating. “
The study was published in the journal Science Robotics. The team demonstrated the system in the video below.