Here is another thing that robotics can help humankind with – running. A recent development by a team of researchers has led to the creation of an ankle exoskeleton, a contraption that when put on the ankle, can ease running and help you run better.
Running, a form of physical activity that can boost your fitness and provide multiple benefits, can be a bit daunting to some of us. For some others, a dearth of motivation might be a factor. But the new development can help us out by reducing the energy cost and thus, easing the activity.
The ankle exoskeleton emulator is meant to be strapped around the shin. The spring-like modules store energy at the beginning of a step and then offload it when the toes are pushed off. However, this was not possible by wearing the exoskeleton alone. That, in fact, added to the energy required.
Instead, when powered appropriately by a motor, the machine eases running compared to running without such an aid by 15 percent. Designs in the future, note the researchers, may provide energy-saving benefits and also offer a cheaper option than the motor-powered alternative.
“Powered assistance took off a lot of the energy burden of the calf muscles. It was very springy and very bouncy compared to normal running,” said Delaney Miller, a graduate student at Stanford who is working on these exoskeletons and also helping test the devices. “Speaking from experience, that feels really good. When the device is providing that assistance, you feel like you could run forever.”
The exoskeleton was tested on eleven runners. It was found that, when powered, the system could boost their speed by 10 percent. The results would be even better if they are allowed to train with it. Furthermore, the researchers also look at this as a mode of transportation. “You could get off a bus, slap on an exoskeleton, and cover the last one-to-two miles to work in five minutes without breaking a sweat,” said Guan Rong Tan, a graduate student in mechanical engineering who, like Miller, is continuing this research.
The research, now published in the Science Robotics journal, was funded by the National Science Foundation and Nike.