These robotic exoskeleton boots will make you feel 30 pounds lighter

Stanford's new mechatronic boots were made for walkin'.
Woman walking across college campus using exoskeleton robotic mobility boots
The boots performed even better than researchers expected. YouTube

An impressive set of robotic exoskeleton boots developed by Stanford University researchers are providing a boost to users’ strides in the real world thanks to years’ worth of of machine learning laboratory tests. The “exoskeleton assistance” device, first revealed on October 12 in a paper published in Nature, showcases groundbreaking results from the Stanford Biomechatronics Laboratory that could alleviate mobility issues both in senior and mobility impaired communities.

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“This exoskeleton personalizes assistance as people walk normally through the real world,” Steve Collins, an associate professor of mechanical engineering heading the Biomechatronics Lab, said in a Stanford news release yesterday, adding that recent tests “resulted in exceptional improvements in walking speed and energy economy.” To put some concrete numbers to it—people who wore the exoskeleton boots were able to walk 9 percent faster while simultaneously expending 17 percent less energy per distance traveled, according to Collins, who later explained their developments present the “largest improvements in the speed and energy of economy walking of any exoskeleton to date.”

Check out a video of the boots made for more than just a-walkin’ below:

To design the new kicks that reportedly feel like walking sans a 30-pound backpack, Stanford researchers turned to machine learning for the latest strides in exoskeleton wearables. Prior teams’ designs often ran into issues with humans’ innate diversity and complexity, but thanks to multiple massive, immobile emulators built within laboratories, copious amounts of energy expenditure and motion data could be captured by testers. These myriad mobility details were then fed into a machine learning model, which is then used by the boots to customize and adjust to a user’s movements in real time.

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Engineers hope their exoskeleton will pave the way for new mobility assistance for both elderly populations and disabled communities dealing with reduced mobility issues. According to Stanford’s writeup, the researchers also intend to design additional models focusing on improving balance and reducing joint pain, along with potentially partnering with commercial investors to one day mass manufacture boots for the public. Speaking with Stanford, project collaborator Patrick Slade said that they believe “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.”