With the advent of robotics, exoskeletons are one of those things that make life easier for old people and people with disabilities. With motors to help them lift the weight, it lets the user make walking a “walk in the park”. These machines, however, aren’t very practical for everyday use as today's exosuits just let you walk a straight line.
But this technology just got a turning upgrade. Stephen John at Panasonic Research in Japan and his colleagues have developed a body-fit exoskeleton that can not only help the user lift things and walking with ease, but also lets them turn sideways. They presented the exoskeleton system at the 2017 International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Vancouver, Canada.
The design is similar to a woman’s pantyhose but has a pack that contains a control system with motors and batteries. With previous exoskeletons using motors to help leg movement, the tight-fitting exosuit uses actuators that help move soft plastic wires at the legs and hips, simulating muscle movement. “One of the unique aspects of this exosuit is the way the fabric is wrapped around the legs to allow different combinations of motors to turn a leg,” says Steve Collins at Stanford University in California whose not involved with the project.
Researchers tested the exoskeleton on five able-bodied people to change directions with their eyes closed. Every time they changed directions, the participants didn’t lose any balance. “Being able to turn is important for home use,” says John. Using these exoskeletons for home use is beneficial for people with stroke or old people to live on their own. “They could put it on the morning and wear it all day,” added John.
To develop this technology further, a sensor system is being developed by Stephen John that detects when the user makes a turning motion and finishes that motion for them. In addition to that, John is developing a system that lets the exoskeleton to sit and stand. “Our goal is to assist with all the important movements that people encounter in their daily lives,” says John.
If these exosuits are used in the movie Edge of Tomorrow, Major William Cage would have fewer deaths (I think). So much for badass weapons, let's have more of these practical devices!
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