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.

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