You Can Run Faster with This Ankle Exoskeleton from Stanford and Nike

The Nike-backed wearable makes running 14% easier than in regular sports shoes.
Fabienne Lang

Good news for those looking to get into running someday: scientists have created a robotic ankle exoskeleton that makes jogging easier and less tiring. 

The device straps on to the ankles of runners and in the lab tests the Stanford University researchers discovered that it makes running 14% easier compared to running in regular sports shoes. 

The study, which was backed by sporting company Nike, was published in Science Robotics on Wednesday.


Not yet out for sale

The engineers who worked on the project caution that the wearable device is still in its research stages, and only works on a treadmill strapped to a machine via cables. So don't go looking for it on any store shelves quite yet. 

However, the team is working on making it lightweight and portable to someday be available for people with disabilities to exercise, as well as offering an option for soldiers and emergency workers to move faster for longer. 

It turns out that the ankle exoskeleton can help runners save 14% energy compared to when running in regular shoes. To give a comparison, the most current commercially available running shoes can bring down the metabolic cost by 4%

The researchers looked at two methods for the exoskeleton to work. The first offered extra force to power the ankle's natural movement, the second added an extra spring-like push to the ankle. The latter did bring down the energy expenditure by 3%, however, it raised the metabolic rate by 11%, whereas the first method reduced energy expenditure and metabolic rate — meaning runners were not working as hard. 

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The hope is for the exoskeleton to hopefully assist in motivating future generations of people to get up and start running. For instance, in 2018 it was recorded that one in four Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 only reported going for a run once in the space of a year. That number drops to one in five when people reach mid-life. 

"We thought that maybe our exoskeletons could make it easier and more fun to run so that people would do it more, and have more enjoyable longer lives," Steve Collins, a mechanical engineer at Stanford University, stated to Inverse. 

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