The world’s population is aging. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2050 there will be more than two billion people over age 60. And the older we get, the weaker our bodies become. So an international team of researchers and companies are working to develop an exoskeleton for senior citizens so they can remain active for longer.
An exoskeleton is a kind of light-weight robot skeleton with small electric motors that can be mounted on the body. This gives the body support while the motors provide extra strength to perform different types of movements. It’s a bit like being on a battery-powered electric bicycle where the motor assistance depends on how strongly you step on the pedals.
Using a variety of advanced sensors the exoskeleton detects things like whether you want to lift your arm or stretch your elbow, and activates small motors that function somewhat like power steering in a car; the movements will be easier and you don’t need to put a lot of effort into them.
The research team is aware of the fact that the exoskeleton should not give users too much strength. In principle, a motorized robotic skeleton gives whoever is wearing it the opportunity for almost superhuman strength. But too much strength makes the user feel uncomfortable, says Shaoping Bai. So the performance of the electric motor is limited to a maximum of 30-50 percent.
– It is absolutely essential that you feel that it’s you controlling the robot and not the other way around, he says. You must be stronger than the skeleton you have on, and we have designed the motors for this.
In five years, we expect that commercially available models will be on the market, says Shaoping Bai. We don’t expect that this is something you’ll see everywhere in five years, but that it will be accessible on the market for ordinary consumers
AXO-SUIT is a three year project stated on October 1st 2014 and is funded under the Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) Joint Programme, Call 6. The project brings together 3 universities and 5 companies active and experienced in R&D of assistive devices to specify the full-body personal mobility, reaching, and grasping requirements of elderly persons allowing them to continue managing their daily activities related to voluntary occupation (maintaining gardens or carrying groceries of more needy people), as well as participating in local social activities while preserving their health and providing motivation to remain active and independent.