The Treadmill of the Future?

Have you ever been on a treadmill working out when suddenly you almost fall off the back of the machine? Have you ever found yourself struggling to keep up with a treadmill’s pace? Have you ever felt constrained by the preset speeds on a treadmill? You’re not the only one – many individuals have a tough time finding a pace that best suits them when running on a treadmill, to the point that pacing charts have been developed to make it easier for runners to find their ideal pace on the treadmill. But, what if this wasn’t a concern? What if treadmill speeds could be personalized to an individual? That’s the idea behind one US patent, the patent for a user footfall sensing control system for treadmill exercise machines:

Patent title: User footfall sensing control system for treadmill exercise machines

Patent number: US 8480541 B1

Patent filing date: June 23, 2009

Patent issue date: July 9, 2013

How long it took for patent to issue: 4 years

Inventors: Randall Thomas Brunts

U.S. classification: 482/7

Claims: 20

This patent proposes to create a footfall monitoring system to track a treadmill user’s motion, speed, and acceleration to automatically adjust the speed of the treadmill to the user’s ideal pace. As the patent’s classification number denotes, the device is intended to “facilitate conditioning or developing of muscle” through “track, field, gymnastics, or athletic activity.” This device specifically will regulate the user’s “rate of movement” in order to facilitate positive exercise.

This patent consists of 20 claims outlining the main functional components of the treadmill system. The main components of the device include: a tread base, a moving tread belt, a belt motion sensor to measure tread belt speed and displacement, a motor assembly to drive belt motion, a foot sensor to detect a user’s position on the tread belt, and a motor controller that adjusts the speed of the tread belt. The basic design for the system can be seen in Figure 1 below. These main components work together to register a user’s position and motion and then automatically change the speed of the tread belt in response to these measurements. While the details of how the system will measure and calculate differences in position, speed, and acceleration is somewhat complicated, the basic idea is simple – the treadmill will sense where a user is stepping on a treadmill and how long their strides are through capacitive proximity sensors around the tread base, as seen in Figure 1 on the right. By using measurements of timing between footfalls and positioning on the treadmill, the system will calculate the user’s speed, acceleration, and position on the treadmill relative to the “ideal” user position. These measurements can then be compared to the speed and acceleration of the tread belt, which can then be used to automatically fit the speed of the tread belt to the user’s running pace and get the runner back to the ideal position on the treadmill.

This patent is not the first time a speed-changing treadmill has been patented before. Prior patents and art outline similar systems that measure a user’s position and speed on a treadmill. One main difference between this patent and other patents is the sensor type and sensing method used. Other proposed designs and patents used a variety of sensors, including optical sensors and pressure sensors as well as strain gauges, to detect a user’s position on a treadmill. However, these sensors often result in inaccurate or false-positive readings during use. This patent, on the other hand, uses capacitive proximity sensors. Using these sensors allows for higher precision and accuracy in footfall detection.


Figure 1. External appearance of treadmill system (left), assembly and processing schematic for system (middle), and areas of footfall sensors (right).


Why does this patent matter? Who is it going to help and how? The answer is – you! This patent has the potential to help everyone from elite athletes to the common gym-goer; anyone who uses a treadmill stands to benefit from this patent. I personally thought this patent was interesting and useful because of my own experiences with treadmills in the past. There have been times when I’m running on a treadmill and my pace changes without me really knowing or thinking about it; it’s a very slight, subtle pace change. But when this happens, I either end up running into the front of the treadmill or creeping backward on the treadmill to the point that I almost fall off the back edge of the machine. Because of this, I think it would be very useful, not to mention safer, to have a treadmill system that automatically adjusts to user pace changes.

This patent and other exciting patents can be found through Google’s patent search or through a government patent search.

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