This sleek new exoskeleton makes walking easier, fits under your clothes

vanderbilt ankle exoskeleton figure 2  proof
Vanderbilt University

When it comes to robotic exoskeletons, many of the rigs on the market put the fact that users are wearing a mobile robot front and center. These are tools like LG’s SuitBot, supportive robot tech that’s as noticeable as having a muscular personal trainer spotting your every exercise in the gym. And why not? If the goal of these exosuits is to help workers carry out heavy lifting tasks in places like warehouses, a conspicuous wearable robot is just another type of uniform to be worn on the job.

But how about supportive tech that is designed to be utilized in everyday life, such as helping elderly people to walk when they have age-related impaired lower-leg muscle strength? In these scenarios, customers may well seek a lightweight, low-profile alternative; preferably one that can be worn under everyday clothing. That’s what mechanical engineering researchers from Vanderbilt University have created with a new ankle exoskeleton developed to help people to walk without fatiguing — and, crucially, without restricting natural motion or drawing attention to itself.

“In this project, we created a spring-powered exosuit — an unmotorized, soft exoskeleton — that can reduce loading on a person’s calf muscles as they ambulate,” Professor Karl Zelik, who worked on the project, told Digital Trends. “The device uses a novel under-the-foot clutch mechanism that we invented, and an extension spring that acts in parallel with the user’s calf muscles. As a person walks, some of the force that typically goes through their muscles is redirected and goes through the assistive spring instead. This reduces the muscle force and effort needed to walk.”

Zelik notes that the low cost (it can be produced for under $100) device weighs only one pound, is quiet, and contains no motors, batteries, or other components that protrude out from the body. To his knowledge, this is the first ankle exoskeleton that can be fully concealed under everyday clothing.

“We performed a series of characterization tests on the device itself to show it works, and then we tested it in human subject experiments in our instrumented motion analysis lab,” he continued. “In these laboratory experiments, we demonstrated that our prototype can reduce loading on the calf muscles, and can assist biological ankle function across a wide range of speeds.”

In addition to older people or those with disabilities, Zelik suggested that there are other potential audiences for the technology. These include runners or hikers, as well as those whose jobs involve large walking distances, such as postal workers or soldiers. The team is currently working toward possible commercialization of this and other types of “mechanized clothing.”

A paper describing the research was published in IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering.

Emerging Tech

A giant new solar farm in Texas will harness the sun’s rays to … brew beer?

Brewing beer is surprisingly energy intensive. With a giant new solar farm in Texas, the world’s largest beer manufacturer promises to brew 100% of its beverages using renewable energy.
Cars

Florida allows autonomous cars to drive on its roads without human supervision

Florida governor Ron DeSantis passed a law that establishes a legal framework for self-driving cars to operate within the state. It allows car and tech companies to test self-driving cars without a human operator behind the wheel.
Deals

Looking to upgrade? These are the best iPhone deals for June 2019

Apple devices can get expensive, but if you just can't live without iOS, don't despair: We've curated an up-to-date list of all of the absolute best iPhone deals available for May 2019.
Mobile

Ads have started showing up on Huawei phone lock screens and people are furious

Huawei appears to be looking to make some extra cash through advertising. A number of Huawei phone users have reported seeing ads pop up on their phone lock screens, seemingly without warning.
Deals

Need a new tablet? Here are the best Apple iPad deals for June 2019

In the wide world of tablets, Apple is still the king. If you're on team Apple and just can't live without iOS, we've curated an up-to-date list of all of the best iPad deals currently available for June 2019.
Emerging Tech

Uber Eats’ drone delivery service could see Big Macs hit speeds of 70 mph

Uber Eats is testing meal delivery using drones. The company wants to start a commercial delivery service using the drone this summer, but it still needs permission from regulators.
Emerging Tech

This lifesaving wearable could diagnose strokes more accurately

A new breakthrough wearable device uses two light measurement techniques to track the body's blood circulation — and accurately predict deadly strokes in the process. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Sloshed drone pilots in Japan can now be punished with jail time

If you're flying a drone in Japan, better not be sloshed when you send your bird skyward. A new law passed this week could see drunk drone pilots sent to jail for up to a year or hit with a hefty fine.
Emerging Tech

Mount Everest is now home to the world’s highest weather station

A team of scientists has created a new record with the installation of the world’s highest weather station atop Everest. Data from the expedition will help researchers better understand the effect of climate change on the region.
Emerging Tech

This drone with hands looks like a nightmare straight out of Black Mirror

This unlikely drone-with-hands creation is the work of Federico Ciccarese, the brains behind YouBionic, a bionic hand project that has evolved far beyond its original brief. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

This crazy-looking robot uses microspines on its legs to climb up walls

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon have built a bioinspired robot, which uses microspines on its feet to grip onto rough surfaces. This allows it to climb up very steep gradients. Check it out.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Florida’s autonomous vehicle law, E3 updates, and more

On this episode of DT Live, we take a look at the biggest trending stories in tech, including Florida allowing fully autonomous vehicles on the road, Atari’s new gaming system, E3 updates, high-speed rail, and more.
Emerging Tech

Got $400 million to burn? The world’s largest airplane is up for sale

Stratolaunch, the world's largest airplane, is up for sale. All it'll cost you is $400 million dollars. The brainchild of late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the plane was supposed to make space travel more accessible and affordable.
Emerging Tech

Ex astris, scientia: Star Trek logo spotted on the surface of Mars

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been boldly going to Mars and capturing images since 2005, and now it has spotted something where no man has gone before: a structure on the planet's surface which will look familiar to Trekkies.