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‘Ankle Exoskeleton’ Improves Running Speed

Credit: Stanford University

Six Million Dollar Man sound effects not included.

Remember the long-fall boots from Portal 2? The entire premise of those things was that they allowed you to survive a fall from any distance by empowering and reinforcing your ankles, which bear the brunt of the load when you run or jump. Now, obviously, we don’t have that kind of technology yet, but the idea of empowering the human body with external tech has been around for decades, and now we may have the progenitor of a long-fall boot. It won’t let you survive a ten-story drop, but it’ll make your ankles a lot tougher.

Scientists from Stanford University have developed what they like to call an “ankle exoskeleton.” It’s- well, it’s pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. By strapping motorized exoskeleton rigs to a test subject’s ankles, they found that running became 15% easier, which in turn allowed the subject to run 10% faster. A motor-powered cable on the back of the rig pulls the foot up when the toe leaves the ground and extends the ankle. Normally, this would be a job reserved for your muscles, but with the rig sharing the load, your muscles don’t get tired as quickly.

Credit: Stanford University

Delaney Miller, a member of the research team, explained what wearing the rig is like. “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.”

This kind of tech could be an interesting game changer in the travel industry. People wouldn’t have to drive as far if they can jog the rest of the way without getting tired. It would also be a boon to those who want to jog socially but lack the stamina to go for a long time. I’m all for exoskeletons, because exoskeleton development gives me hope we’ll have power armor someday.

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