A new treadmill has been developed and is built to automatically change speed to match the pace of the runner. A news release from The Ohio State University reports that the automated treadmill is engineered to use sonar in order to discern exactly where the runner is on the treadmill. If the runner picks up pace and moves toward the front of the running belt, the speed automatically increases. If the runner slows down and moves toward the back, the speed decreases.

In the release Steven T. Devor, PhD, MS, BAA, associate professor of kinesiology at The Ohio State University, explains that the result translates into a treadmill experience much closer to walking or running outdoors.

“If you’re running outside and you want to speed up or slow down, there is no button to push. It is the same with his new automated treadmill,” Devor says.

The release notes that Devor developed the new automated treadmill with Cory Scheadler, PhD, MA, BS, a former graduate student at Ohio State who is now an assistant professor at Northern Kentucky University.

The exercise researchers describe the automated treadmill in a study published online in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise.

 According to the release, Devor says the device is a finished prototype in his lab and is nearly ready for commercialization.

The researchers reportedly developed the treadmill’s setup using off-the-shelf products. They first began with an inexpensive sonar range finder, which is used to measure the distance between an object and the sonar device. They then attached it to a microcontroller and a computer, which was linked to the electronics in the treadmill.

The sonar, the release says, is set up behind the treadmill and aimed at the runner’s back, between the shoulder blades. Once the runner is in the middle of the running belt (measured from front to back), the speed of the treadmill stays the same. If the sonar senses that the runner is moving farther away, this indicates that the runner is picking up speed and the sonar microcontroller sends a signal to the treadmill to speed up the belt in varying increments of speed. The speed increases until the runner returns to the middle of the belt. The release notes that if the sonar senses the runner is getting closer to the device, a signal tells the treadmill to slow down until the runner returns to the middle.

 During the researchers’ study, the release says they asked 13 experienced endurance runners to take a VO2 max test using both a standard treadmill and the automated treadmill. Results indicated that athletes improved their VO2 max scores by 4% to 7% using the automated treadmill.

This is important, Devor notes, as VO2 scores are key when developing heart rate training zones.

“If you have a more accurate VO2 max score, your heart rate zones are more accurate and your training will be more effective,” he adds.

Devor also states in the release that he is continuing to improve the automated treadmill and use it for research.

[Photo Credit: Jo McCulty, Courtesy of Ohio State University]

[Source: The Ohio State University]