DALLAS — A new study funded by the U.S. Army has found something surprising about the world’s fastest man, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.
Using a new technique for analyzing video footage of runners, researchers at Southern Methodist University found that Bolt’s stride is asymmetrical. That is to say, there is a difference in how hard and fast his right and left feet hit the ground.
This comes as something of a surprise as it has long been thought that a symmetrical gait is important to speed.
“Our observations raise the immediate scientific question of whether a lack of symmetry represents a personal mechanical optimization that makes Bolt the fastest sprinter ever or exists for reasons yet to be identified,” says Andrew Udofa, a biomechanics researcher in the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory, in a press release.
Peter Weyand, the laboratory’s leader, said the findings were made possible by their “two-mass model” of running which they described in a paper published earlier this year.
The new method for analyzing runners is explained in this video, which features some of the world’s top runners in the SMU lab.
The video also mentions possible uses of the technology — including development of prosthetics, robotics, shoe design, and orthotics.
While the exact reasons the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command funded the research are not provided, the possibility of improving artificial limbs is no doubt of interest.
It is also a given that the U.S. military is interested in perfecting and understanding the athletic performance of its assets, both human and robotic.
Indeed, soldiers will likely not always be the only sprinters in the military. Other military-funded researchers have been working for some time now to develop both humanoid and dog-like robots capable of running on the battlefield.
One of the best known robotics developers under military contract, Boston Dynamics, has made videos of a variety of its robots public. Many of these can be seen running, walking, and rolling on their YouTube channel.
If and how Boston Dynamics or other robotics researchers will be able to make use of SMU’s latest findings remains to be seen.
Udofa presented the research on Bolt at the 35th International Conference on Biomechanics in Sport in Cologne, Germany in June.
The researchers described the two-mass model earlier this year in an article in the Journal of Experimental Biology.