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Stanford Engineers Test a ‘Powered Ankle Exoskeleton’, Could it Be the Next Mode of Transportation?

Engineers at Stanford University are currently studying and testing a powered ankle exoskeleton to endorse physical activity and even create a new mode of transportation.

Based on a report by Engadget, the Stanford engineers tested a motorized ankle exoskeleton that a person wears around the ankle and foot and have found that the device made running easier of up to 15% and enhances the runner’s speed of up to 10%.

According to the engineers, when the exoskeleton’s motor is turned on, it reduces the energy cost of running, so it can make it 25% easier to run than when the exoskeleton is turned off.

Additionally, when the device’s motor is on, it tugs the cable that runs through the back of the rig from the calf to the heel, which is responsible for pulling the foot upward during the toe-off causing the ankles to extend at the end of every step.

“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. Speaking from experience, that feels really good. When the device is providing that assistance, you feel like you could run forever,” Stanford grad student and team member Delaney Miller.

In general, a powered exoskeleton should make a person run faster and longer than what they are initially capable of without the device.

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Besides experimenting with motor-powered assistance, the team of engineers also worked on spring-based aid, and the results of their study have been published in Science Robotics.

When they work on an ankle exoskeleton that mimicked spring-based assistance, the Stanford engineers found out that there was an increase in energy demand, which makes it 11% harder to run without an exoskeleton and only 2% easier to run than having a non-powered ankle exoskeleton.

Steve Collins, the senior author of the paper and a mechanical engineering associate professor at Stanford University, said that our legs already behave like spring, so they were rather surprised to discover that spring-based assistance made running harder.

Collins also explained why the experiment was significant, saying that even lead scientists are “still discovering” how our body is allowing us to move more efficiently.

If in the future, the team can modify the design of spring-based ankle assistance and the energy cost is reduced, runners may be able to reap small benefits from it compared to motor-based assistance, which will be more expensive.

The Stanford researchers also believe that this kind of technology could be useful in different ways in the future.

For one, they believe it can be thought of as a new kind 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,” Guan Rong Tan, a mechanical engineering grad student, and team member said.

They also said it could aid people who want to keep up with their friends who run faster than them or take part in sports like marathons.

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