Harvard's new mini exosuit lets you run farther and faster

Imagine pulling on a pair of shorts that, as long as you're wearing them, enable you to run farther distances at faster speeds than you'd run without them. Such has become reality, for the most part, thanks to work by Harvard researchers. The University recently detailed a new soft exosuit — which is really just a fancy pair of shorts — that enable runners to go longer distances at faster rates than they otherwise could.

The exosuit was created by researchers with Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and its School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The University describes the product as a soft exosuit, meaning it doesn't involve any hard, rigid components, and it is tethered in its present iteration. The wearable portion is comprised of components that are applied to the back of the runner's thighs, as well as a belt; the tethered portion includes soft wires and an 'external actuation unit.'

Altogether, the system is able to mimic a pair of hip extensor muscles that, according to the researchers, put force on the legs each time a stride is taken. This reduces the metabolic cost of running, decreasing the strain on the runner's body so that they can run faster and farther than they otherwise could unassisted.

Harvard explains that one assistance pattern used with the exosuit is based on human biology, while the other is based on a simulation of assisted human running developed by Stanford. Interestingly enough, it was the latter profile — the one based on a simulation — that was most effective, decreasing the so-called metabolic cost of running by a two-factor. After studying why, the researchers determined that the simulation-based assistance pattern has a positive effect on multiple joints, improving foot-to-ground force and knee extension as well as the hips.

SOURCE: Harvard