Stanford University engineers are developing a prototype ankle exoskeleton that will help people walk faster. It is designed to help those whose gait is slowed down by age, injury or illness.
People tend to walk more slowly with age. This is due to neuromuscular degeneration or general “wear and tear” of the body. As a result, the elderly and people with various medical conditions begin to walk much more slowly than they would like.
A team of scientists at Stanford is committed to solving this problem. They are currently working on a concept for an electrically powered exoskeleton. In fact, it takes over some of the physical effort, allowing the wearer to move faster. Scientists plan to shrink the device to fit easily around the shin and inside the shoe. This will allow you to select your preferred walking speed.
The exoskeleton is now an emulator. That is, this is an experimental setup. It is used on a treadmill where the exoskeleton is powered by a cable. It is connected to large external motors and is controlled by an algorithm. When the wearer walks, the exoskeleton acts like a mechanical calf muscle. She applies a little force to each step, pulling her heel up and pressing her toes down. This increases the wearer’s walking speed by about 40%. For developers, this high efficiency came as a surprise. Experiments have shown that a 40% increase in speed is more than the difference between young and old.
The immediate goal is to make the prototype more efficient and comfortable. Ultimately, scientists plan to create an exoskeleton that works on its own and can be worn by the elderly. This more advanced version will not only improve your walking speed, but will also help relieve pain from joint overload or imbalance.