Get Less Tired With Exosuit that Provide Some Walking Assistance

DARPA launched the soft exoskeleton project in 2011 and eight years later there is slow progress at Harvard Wyss Institute.

A medical version of the exosuit aimed at improving gait rehabilitation for stroke survivors is now commercially available in the US and Europe, via a collaboration with ReWalk Robotics.

There is a now a hip exosuit which can provide 4 to 9.3% energy reduction for wearers to walk around. The team first showed that the exosuit worn by users in treadmill-based indoor tests, on average, reduced their metabolic costs of walking by 9.3% and of running by 4% compared to when they were walking and running without the device.

The team’s most recent hip-assisting exosuit is designed to be simpler and lighter weight compared to their past multi-joint exosuit. It assists the wearer via a cable actuation system. The actuation cables apply a tensile force between the waist belt and thigh wraps to generate an external extension torque at the hip joint that works in concert with the gluteal muscles. The device weighs 5kg in total with more than 90% of its weight located close to the body’s center of mass.

In ongoing work, the team is focused on optimizing all aspects of the technology, including further reducing weight, individualizing assistance and improving ease of use. “It is very satisfying to see how far our approach has come,” said Walsh, “and we are excited to continue to apply it to a range of applications, including assisting those with gait impairments, industry workers at risk of injury performing physically strenuous tasks, or recreational weekend warriors.”

Science – Reducing the metabolic rate of walking and running with a versatile, portable exosuit

Walking and running have fundamentally different biomechanics, which makes developing devices that assist both gaits challenging. We show that a portable exosuit that assists hip extension can reduce the metabolic rate of treadmill walking at 1.5 meters per second by 9.3% and that of running at 2.5 meters per second by 4.0% compared with locomotion without the exosuit. These reduction magnitudes are comparable to the effects of taking off 7.4 and 5.7 kilograms during walking and running, respectively, and are in a range that has shown meaningful athletic performance changes. The exosuit automatically switches between actuation profiles for both gaits, on the basis of estimated potential energy fluctuations of the wearer’s center of mass. Single-participant experiments show that it is possible to reduce metabolic rates of different running speeds and uphill walking, further demonstrating the exosuit’s versatility.

14 thoughts on “Get Less Tired With Exosuit that Provide Some Walking Assistance”

  1. There’ve been a few interesting periods of history like that. Where tech development means that there was a window of time where a weird thing was the optimum choice. Then afterwards it just seems so strange and the circumstances never happen again.

    • Late 19th century, say 1860-1890, when heavy warships were armoured strongly enough to be largely immune to warship canon. There really weren’t many serious naval battles, but the ones that did happen would last for hours without ships being able to damage each other. Weirder still, the only method that DID work was a good old fashioned, Battle of Salamis style ramming attack.
    • 20th Century, say 1910-2000, where broadcast radio and TV could send entertainment and news into every home, but creating and broadcasting such shows required the resources of major corporate and government organisations. Resulting in significant monopolisation of information. We can see the fights occuring right now as this is breaking down.
    • 19th century shipping, again, where coal burning steam ships were faster and more responsive than sail… but didn’t have the range to be intercontinental. So a fleet of sailing ships needed to go around refilling all the coal refuelling stations so the faster steam ships could stay in operation.
    • Early iron age, where the (relatively) cheap stuff was iron, but the good stuff was bronze. Bronze having been in production for a couple of thousand years by that stage they could make stronger, better, harder bronze
  2. Most people who need to exercise already have an adipose exosuit that makes all physical activity more difficult.

  3. I tried some of those minimal shoes (Vibram Furoshikis). After a week I started getting nerve pain. It got better when I stuffed some arch supports in there.

    Maybe this is just because a lifetime of modern shoes has messed me up, but leaving them behind is easier said than done.

  4. Completely agree. I get more speed per unit effort when I’m biking, so without trying to motivate myself or even thinking about it I push myself harder than when I’m walking or hiking.

    The question with stuff like this exoskeleton is, could they get to a point where I get as much speed per unit effort as biking? If so, I might use something like this to commute to work. It would be a smaller package than the bike and good for more types of terrain (although my ankles might regret that later).

    Then when I’m old and I need something like this just for a regular hike in the woods, I’ll be glad that the industry expanded and matured on the backs of so many hippy commuters.

  5. DARPA and SpecOps SPAWAR decided that the quick win was pursuing soft exoskeleton work for project TALOS, when faced with the limitations of current hard exoskeletons. The basic problem of the hardsuits was power, and they seem to have gotten to the point where an active power generator is used when noise isn’t a problem but the power generation was still unsatisfactory at the time of their decision (this included some proton exchange membrane based fuel cells, as well as Liquid Piston’s inverse wankel rotary engine). Admittedly the small form factor power generators have improved since the decision point, but softsuits are big now due to lower power requirements (for less performance obviously). The big thing for the softsuits right now is a safer failure mode.

  6. If I want to do some aerobic exercise I could go for a run.
    But I’m no good at running, it’s slow, boring and soon becomes very uncomfortable. I’ll only cover a few km so the scenery doesn’t change. I don’t get to see anything interesting.

    As a result I’d manage to motivate myself to do that maybe once a week. Then once a month. Then once a year. OK, the last time was 2005.

    OR… I could go for a ride on a bike. I’ve got a nice, light, carbon fibre and titanium road bike that I can do a 100 maybe 125 km before I get bored and want to stop. I’m travelling fast so it’s more fun. I get to cover lots of ground so I can go to see interesting sights. It’s fast enough that I can use it as practicable transport to commute to work so I can do that 2 to 4 times per week.

    As a result I do it much, much more than the slow, boring running. Maybe I’d be churning through more kJ/min while running, but maybe not. But the fact that I’m doing it for several hours per week rather than several hours per decade is what’s most important.

  7. That’s the easy way. The more advanced way is properly aligned active resistance. But a bunch of rubber bands would work too.

  8. A suit that increases leverage would increase performance. Something as simple as a shoe that extend our feet. Maybe a spring loaded extensions for the calves. Adding battery powered linear motors could gives us a little more power and reduce fatigue.

  9. You could potentially use an exosuit to make exercise more difficult, if you reverse the settings. This one isn’t designed for exercise, but for “in-the-wild” usage such as long-distance hiking, military, or just daily chores or jobs where you need to walk a lot.

  10. Most the exo-suits available are passive, Once battery technology doubles or better yet triples the energy available in a small package, then powered exo-suits will be everywhere.

  11. They must really be making progress on exo suits… last time I talked to a company about them… they were using them as “simulated” aging suits … to show what it’s like to be an 80 year old man…. some crazy guy in Burbank,ca …

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