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Sonar treadmill could replace ‘dreadmill’

OSU Ph.D. student Rich Lafountain and Steven Devor, an associate professor in Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology, try out Devor's automated treadmill. Credit: Courtesy of Steven Devor

OSU Ph.D. student Rich Lafountain and Steven Devor, an associate professor in Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology, try out Devor’s automated treadmill. Credit: Courtesy of Steven Devor

Run, run as fast as you can, because a new-concept treadmill will be able to keep up, increasing and decreasing speed without a runner even touching a button.

Steven Devor, associate professor in Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology, invented and developed an automated treadmill and said it has the potential to be a game changer.

“I think this treadmill could revolutionize the cardio side (of fitness),” he said. “(It) could revolutionize the way treadmills are viewed.”

The “dreadmill,” as he calls the traditional treadmill, is something many runners only like to use on a cold winter day.

Devor said the problem with treadmills is that there is no natural variance or fluctuation of speed, which gave him and Cory Scheadler the idea to create a treadmill that feels more like running outdoors.

Scheadler is a former graduate student at OSU who now works as an assistant professor at Northern Kentucky University.

“This mimics being outside so closely, it makes a treadmill natural,” Devor said. “The act of running, that speeding up and slowing down, the naturalness of it — that’s what this does ideally.”

The technology uses a sonar range finder to measure the distance between the runner and a sonar device. The device reads the location of the runner on the treadmill and adjusts the speed of the belt accordingly to match, keeping the runner in the middle of the treadmill at all times, according to the press release.

“Basically, you just get on it and start it, and that’s all you have to do,” he said. “You start walking, you start running, if you want to speed up, the treadmill is going to speed up faster than you and bring you back to the center of the belt. It’s seamless, and (a) very natural feeling. It’s pretty exciting.”

The treadmill, which is patent-pending, took two years to develop, taking a countless amount of hours to perfect, Devor said.

“After the first six months of thinking about it we had a working version, but it was very jerky, it wasn’t smooth, and you could beat it,” he said. “It didn’t speed up fast enough, in big enough increments.”

But with more time spent developing it over the course of two years, Devor said the research project is almost ready for commercialization.

“What we have is a finished prototype. It works perfectly,” he said. “I think a treadmill manufacturer would be interested.”

The cost to develop the new-concept treadmill came from lab funds, Devor said, so a grant for the research wasn’t necessary.

“The expense was all of the person hours, all of the time that (we) put into it,” he said. “The sonar I think was $9, the sonar wasn’t expensive, and we obviously already had the treadmill. The rest of it was all the time spent programming and working on it on your own.”

Devor said he isn’t sure how long it will take for the treadmill to become patented, but is hopeful for it to be approved within the next year, although he said it could take as long as two years. He is also not sure how much it will cost once it is commercialized, but Devor is hopeful the product can be offered to OSU students at the RPAC in the future.

“I think it would be wonderful to see this technology in treadmills that I’ve created on campus,” he said. “That would be a great thing. I’d like to see it all over the place, but certainly my home campus. I’d love to see it here, that’d be great.”

Daniel Kriz, a second-year in security and intelligence, said he does not like traditional treadmills.

“I’m not really a fan of treadmills because it messes up my joints when I run on the same surface,” he said. “So, I prefer running outside if I can, or on a track.”

But he said if he had the option to use this newly invented treadmill, he might be more inclined to use one.

“That would definitely be something that I’d be interested in,” he said. “I’d have a lot more incentive to use an indoor treadmill that did that.”

Lauren Landsman, a senior in marketing, said she uses treadmills often, especially in the winter, but prefers to run outside because she enjoys the different scenery. She said having the new technology would be an interesting way to keep up with her cardio.

“I think it would make it a bit more realistic, like running outside,” Landsman said. “And it would make me a little less focused on the screen and a little more focused on enjoying the run. I think it would be cool to try.”


  1. Looks pretty awesome can’t wait to start seeing this in the gym. I hate having to switch the settings every five minutes.

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