SOFT WEARABLE EXOSKELETONS
The Future of Neurorehabilitation
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency invests in a super-light exoskeleton for soldiers
This is the Soft Exosuit, a lightweight skeleton frame that can help its wearer cover more ground with less exertion. The “wearable robot” has been developed by Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and has just received $2.9 million in development cash from DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency responsible for pioneering innovation in defense technology).
This version of the suit is designed to help soldiers carry heavier loads across further distances; eventually, it could assist anyone who has trouble walking normally. What makes the suit different to others in development is that it’s so light and easy to put on — it includes flexible power units and a range of integrated sensors. Unlike large, heavy alternatives, the Soft Exosuit is designed to make small but significant differences to a human’s capabilities.
“Exoskeletons often fail to allow the wearer to perform his or her natural joint movements, are generally heavy, and can hence cause fatigue,” explain the engineers behind the suit. “[The Soft Exosuit] can be significantly lighter than an exoskeleton since it does not contain a rigid structure. It also provides minimal restrictions to the wearer’s motions, avoiding problems relating to joint misalignment.”
The majority of the suit’s workload is done at the waist level, reducing the bulk of the components fitted around the leg, while a network of cables are used to transmit support to the joints. A micro-computer affixed to the top of the exosuit automatically adjusts its settings to match the speed and movements of the wearer — it’s designed to be as natural to use as possible.
The investment in funding means the Harvard team can develop their ideas further, whether these wearable exosuits are going to be helping soldiers or the infirm. At the moment the makers of the Soft Exosuit only have a preliminary prototype to show for their efforts, but it’s hoped that partners from the medical industry can soon be brought on board.
J Neuroeng Rehabil. 2017 Nov 28;14(1):123. doi: 10.1186/s12984-017-0333-z.
Gait performance and foot pressure distribution during wearable robot-assisted gait in elderly adults.
A robotic exoskeleton device is an intelligent system designed to improve gait performance and quality of life for the wearer. Robotic technology has developed rapidly in recent years, and several robot-assisted gait devices were developed to enhance gait function and activities of daily living in elderly adults and patients with gait disorders. In this study, we investigated the effects of the Gait-enhancing Mechatronic System (GEMS), a new wearable robotic hip-assist device developed by Samsung Electronics Co, Ltd., Korea, on gait performance and foot pressure distribution in elderly adults.
Thirty elderly adults who had no neurological or musculoskeletal abnormalities affecting gait participated in this study. A three-dimensional (3D) motion capture system, surface electromyography and the F-Scan system were used to collect data on spatiotemporal gait parameters, muscle activity and foot pressure distribution under three conditions: free gait without robot assistance (FG), robot-assisted gait with zero torque (RAG-Z) and robot-assisted gait (RAG).
We found increased gait speed, cadence, stride length and single support time in the RAG condition. Reduced rectus femoris and medial gastrocnemius muscle activity throughout the terminal stance phase and reduced effort of the medial gastrocnemius muscle throughout the pre-swing phase were also observed in the RAG condition. In addition, walking with the assistance of GEMS resulted in a significant increase in foot pressure distribution, specifically in maximum force and peak pressure of the total foot, medial masks, anterior masks and posterior masks.
The results of the present study reveal that GEMS may present an alternative way of restoring age-related changes in gait such as gait instability with muscle weakness, reduced step force and lower foot pressure in elderly adults. In addition, GEMS improved gait performance by improving push-off power and walking speed and reducing muscle activity in the lower extremities.