These New Boots Literally Put a Spring in Your Step

Engineers invent boots that help wearers walk faster.


Heatlh, Wellness
These New Boots Literally Put a Spring in Your Step | Engineers invent boots that help wearers walk faster.

If you’ve ever gone on a long hike, you know the relief of getting to the end of the trail, and putting down your backpack. You can feel all your muscles relax as you unburden yourself from the heavy pack.

Stanford researchers want to give people with mobility limitations that same sense of relief and lightness. Popular Science reports on new exoskeleton boots, developed by a team at the University, that help people walk faster, and let them feel as if they just took a 30-pound load off of their shoulders.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Stanford Engineering (@stanfordeng)

Acting as an exoskeleton
Stanford Engineering Magazine explains how they work. The boots mimic the calf muscle, by applying a lifting, twisting force at the ankle. In other words, the exoskeleton boots help wearers push off the ground, taking some of the load off of the calf muscle. 

This exoskeleton idea isn’t new, associate professor of mechanical engineering, Steve Collins clarified. Engineers have designed boots that also help with “lift-off” in the past. However, according to Collins, “most exoskeletons are designed using a combination of intuition or biomimicry, but people are too complicated and diverse for that to work well.” In other words, everyone walks slightly differently, and a one-size-fits-all approach didn’t meet these diverse needs and differences.

A personalized push-off
The Stanford University team addressed this limitation with exoskeleton emulators that absorbed information about the gaits of different users, in a laboratory. The data was then fed into a machine-learning model. The model learned to customize the assistance given, to the needs of the walker.

Next, the Stanford team integrated sensors into their exoskeleton design. According to Patrick Slade, a member of the team who worked on the boots, “we measure force and ankle motion through the wearables to provide accurate assistance. By doing this, we can carefully control the device as people walk and assist them in a safe, unobtrusive way.”

Because the device is designed to collect data, and adjust over time, it feels a little awkward when it's first strapped on. However, after only an hour of usage, it adjusts to its wearer’s needs.

Taking the boots for a test “drive”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by WearRA (@wearra)

Data from wearers walking on treadmills indicated that the Stanford team’s approach was working, Futurity reports. According to Collins, “In direct comparisons on a treadmill, our exoskeleton provides about twice the reduction in effort of previous devices,” which added up to 9 percent speed boost, and 17 percent reduction in energy expended by the walker. 

And, a few weeks ago, the boots got to go beyond the lab and the treadmill, and make their “real world” debut. Ava Lakmazaheri, a Biomechatronics graduate student, took the boots for a test “drive,” on campus.

“The first time you put an exoskeleton on can be a bit of an adjustment,” Lakmazaheri shared. “But, honestly, within the first 15 minutes of walking, it starts to feel quite natural. Walking with the exoskeletons quite literally feels like you have an extra spring in your step. It just really makes that next step so much easier.”

Real world applications

According to Popular Science, the Stanford engineers plan to use the exoskeletons to help the elderly, and people with mobility impairments, The team is also working to develop other exoskeleton models to help with balance, joint pain, and other mobility challenges.

Slade explained, “over the next decade we’ll see these ideas of personalizing assistance and effective portable exoskeletons help many people overcome mobility challenges or maintain their ability to live active, independent, and meaningful lives.”

The team is also considering mass marketing the boots for the public to give everyone the chance to have a “spring in their step''. Characters like Iron Man have long piqued the public’s interest in “superhuman suits.” Maybe Stanford’s exoskeleton is the first step in bringing sci-fi wearables a step closer to reality?

Meet an Adorable Boot-Wearing Penguin
In a World's First, Tiger is Receiving a Prosthetic Leg
Introducing the First Bionic Clothing