Over the past several years, we’ve seen robot exosuits move from the stuff of sci-fi firmly into the realm of science fact. Alongside this, our vision of what such exosuits may look like has shifted from the bulky “Power Loader” of James Cameron’s Aliens to softer, more personal wearables, which provide the same promise of assistive technology, but in a more practical, slimline form factor.
That’s where a new multi-joint, textile-based soft robotic exosuit created by researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute comes into play. With the future goal of serving soldiers, firefighters, and other rescue workers, it promises to augment wearers’ physical abilities — while personalizing itself according to the unique needs of each user.
“The control tuning method [presented in our latest research] automatically customizes the timing of exosuit assistance to maximize the mechanical power delivered to the user’s ankle joints,” Sangjun Lee, one of the researchers on the project, told Digital Trends. “To be specific, as the delivered power is determined by how the human and the exosuit interact with each other, it is dependent not only on exosuit force, but also on wearer-specific joint motions. This method aims at automatically tuning the timing of exosuit force to make it more in sync with individual walking patterns, by online monitoring and maximizing the interaction power.”
The exosuit, which was funded by U.S. defense group DARPA, was recently put through its paces by soldiers. They tested it out on a 12-mile cross-country course, and found that it significantly reduced the metabolic cost of walking.
“Being a DARPA-funded project, military applications were the initial focus, but this is really useful work for anybody who could use some help walking,” Dave Perry, an engineer working on the project, told us. “First responders can use a similar system to help carry their gear up apartment stairs or out into the woods to fight a fire. We’ve partnered with a robotics company called ReWalk, and they’re currently bringing a medical focused device through clinical trials that leverage much of the technology we developed. We’d be excited to work with folks interested in some of the military and commercial applications as well.”
A paper describing the work was recently published in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation.
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