Quirks & Quarks

Electric-assist running boots may be the future of recreational jogging

Researchers have designed an ankle “exoskeleton” that makes running easier.

The device decreases the energy expenditure necessary by 14 per cent

A robotic ankle is taken through its paces. (Farrin Abbott)
Listen6:00

If you really want to run like the wind, new research funded in part by Nike may be able to help decrease your energy expenditure every step of the way.

 It is a wearable ankle robot, and researchers say it may be just the thing to get you on the road to better health.

The ankle robot is a wearable boot-like exoskeleton made of carbon fibre and titanium — and powered by a small remote electric motor. 

The motor assists in pulling up the heel from behind and extending the normal range of the ankle, or a "power-assisted ankle." 

The experiments suggest the device decreases the energy expenditure of the user by 14 per cent compared to the output of using regular running shoes. The work was led by Steve Collins, a mechanical engineer at Stanford University.

To further prove the effectiveness of the motorized exoskeleton, Collins and his colleagues tried two other approaches: an unpowered exoskeleton and an exoskeleton powered to mimic a spring. 

Their research suggested that the unpowered exoskeleton made it 13 per cent harder to run, and the spring version required an additional energetic cost of 11 per cent compared to normal running shoes.  

Diagram showing the robotic ankle. (Farrin Abbott)

The motorized ankle boot could benefit a variety of people, including individuals with disabilities, the elderly or anyone who has difficulty moving around, according to researchers.

 

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