We got our first close look at the AlterG antigravity treadmill at a health expo in San Francisco earlier this year, and at the time, the price was floating up there somewhere near the space station.
But we've good news for those who like the idea of running like an astronaut: Fremont, Calif.-based AlterG on Monday plans to announce a more affordable model, the AlterG M300. The two treadmills in the M300 series deliver the same antigravity technology as AlterG's pricey $75,000 P200 series, but at a third of the cost--$34,900 to $36,900.
Yes, we know that hardly puts the AlterG in the range of the Total Gym, but it does move the device beyond the realm of the sports elite into a bracket accessible to more gyms and physical therapy clinics.
Medical institutions, college athletic programs, and sports teams around the country (including the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Cowboys, and Arizona Diamondbacks) already use the AlterG, but wider distribution could prove beneficial for Parkinson's patients, stroke survivors, and others reporting progress as a result of the technology.
AlterG's antigravity technology was originally developed at NASA and tested at Nike's Oregon Research Project by America's top distance runners.
The treadmill works by pumping air into an enclosure that surrounds users from the waist down. They zip themselves in, and an increase in air pressure lifts them so they can run at a fraction of their actual weight (pressing the up/down arrows on the control panel decreases body weight at increments of 1 percent, as much as 80 percent).
The reduction lowers the impact on joints and muscles to improve training and performance or help provide a smooth recovery from injury or surgery. Speed and incline are adjustable as with any treadmill.
"Removing the physical burden of weight bearing has remarkable results," said Bryan Nadeau of AlterG customer Muir Orthopedic Specialists, located in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Paty Shives, 46, is one patient who has seen such results. Three and a half years ago, she suffered a hemorrhagic stroke that left her completely paralyzed on the left side and was told she may never walk again. She learned about the AlterG from her physical therapist, and using it regularly, she regained the ability to walk using a walker after six months. Now she walks on her own and continues to train with the device for 40 minutes two to three times a week. She hopes to be running independently by December or January.
"I probably have about an 80 percent return in my functionality on the left side," Shives said. "All of my limbs work and they work fairly well. I have to work on issues such as dexterity and balance and the sort of nuances that come along with walking and having a proper gait. But...it's a tremendously long way away from where I was at the beginning."
She likens the sensation of running on the AlterG to "running on air, but in a very controlled way. You're harnessed in so securely that you really don't feel any balance issues. You feel very secure and you don't have a lot of impact under your feet."
The two AlterG models in the new M300 series, which begins shipping in November, can accommodate users from 85 pounds to 400 pounds. The machines measure 84 inches by 38 inches by 74 inches and weigh 750 pounds (10 inches shorter and 250 pounds lighter than the original). The new treadmills will be popping up at locations in San Francisco, Chicago, and Lubbock, Texas, among other cities. AlterG says physical therapy clinics and gyms will likely charge a 30-minute or hourly rate for use of the device.
Update, February 10, 2014: An updated price range has been added.