A pair of robotic exoskeleton boots could be the future of walking assistance, rather than a cane or a walking frame.

Stanford University’s Biomechatronics Lab has created the world’s first untethered exoskeleton, which gives people a motorized boost to their steps as they walk.

It’s the “real-world Iron Man,” according to postdoctoral scholar Patrick Slade, who designed the exoskeleton.

The exoskeleton is worn on your foot as a regular shoe that has been retrofitted with sensors. It is attached to your calf via a carbon fiber brace and wires. A motor in the back of the calf winds up a cable attached to the shoe as you walk, making pushing off the ground easier.

However, this exoskeleton’s other secret is that the longer you wear it, the more it learns about your walking style. A machine learning system uses data from sensors throughout the exoskeleton to determine how your ankle moves and when your foot makes contact with the ground. It then adjusts the motor and power to match your gait.

Slade and his colleagues hope that these types of assistive devices – high-tech wearables that adapt to the users – will help elderly patients or those with walking difficulties achieve new levels of mobility precisely tailored to their needs.