Exoskeleton suit boosts your legs to help you run faster

Exoskeleton suit boosts your legs to help you run faster

This exoskeleton suit helped runners complete a 200-metre sprint nearly 1 second faster than when they ran the same distance without it

Assistive and Rehabilitation Robotics Lab at Chung-Ang University

An exoskeleton suit helps people sprint faster, according to the results of a small study. Elite athletes could one day use the suit in training sessions to improve their running performance, although one expert says it may increase the risk of injuries.

Researchers have previously developed exoskeleton devices that help people to walk or jog more efficiently. Now, Giuk Lee at Chung-Ang University in Seoul, South Korea, and his colleagues have created an “exosuit” that enables people to sprint faster.

The exosuit, which weighs 4.4 kilograms, has electrical motors on its back that control the length of two steel cables that attach to the wearer’s hips and thighs, says Lee. The length of the cable running between each hip and its corresponding thigh shortens as a wearer extends their legs backwards, helping them to complete this motion.

Using sensors, the exosuit can detect the gait of a runner in real time and synchronise with their steps, says Lee.

To test its performance, the team asked nine non-elite runners to sprint 200 metres, twice while wearing the exosuit and twice without it. The researchers found that the participants ran 0.97 seconds faster, on average, when wearing the suit.

A statistical analysis suggests that this improvement didn’t happen by chance. However, it can’t be ruled out that they ran faster when wearing the exosuit because they expected it to help, similar to the placebo effect, says Lee.

The researchers have more recently developed a lighter exosuit, weighing 2.5 kilograms, and are testing whether this could be used as a training tool among elite runners, he says.

“One of the elite runners has been training with this exosuit and it has helped them run faster even without wearing it,” says Lee. “This may be because it helps them to feel and remember how to engage the right muscles to run faster.”

Although none of the study’s nine participants reported injuries after wearing the exosuit, Majid Nili Ahmadabadi at the University of Tehran in Iran says this could be an issue with continued use. “Running faster by exosuits may negatively affect joint stiffness and that may cause damage to users’ knees, hips and ankles,” he says.

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