A new technology, previously seen only in comics and Sci-Fi movies, is finally emerging into the real world. A group of scientists used a combination of Exosuits, wearable robotic tech, to design robotic shorts which should help people with disabilities stand on their feet again, as well as make walking and running more comfortable.
The newly-designed bionic shorts help people stand on their feet again, while enhancing physical abilities. It is a joint project between Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, the University of Nebraska Omaha and Chung-Ang University in Seoul, South Korea.
The robotic shorts are lightweight and easy to use and work by using motors to pull cables inside which extend the hips in a more natural way. In that way, it reduces the excess energy the body uses to move, making movement easier and more comfortable.
As Gizmodo reported, previous exosuits could already help reduce the energy spent on walking, as per Philippe Malcolm, a biomechanics expert at the University of Nebraska Omaha. However, the new design is softer and less rigid which puts less strain on the human body, making movement easier. A person can easily transit between walking and jogging or even full running during exercise. Their findings were published in the journal Science.
“We took advantage of these biomechanical insights to develop our biologically inspired gait classification algorithm that can robustly and reliably detect a transition from one gait to the other by monitoring the acceleration of an individual’s center of mass with sensors that are attached to the body,” Malcolm said in a statement. “Once a gait transition is detected, the exosuit automatically adjusts the timing of its actuation profile to assist the other gait, as we demonstrated by its ability to reduce metabolic oxygen consumption in wearers.”
They tested the prototype of futuristic robotic shorts on healthy volunteers running in different scenarios, starting from treadmills to walking up hills. The team used these tests to measure the energy spent on running while wearing the robotic suit.
The energy reduction is nearly equal to having taken off from the waist 17 pounds while walking, or 12 pounds while running. However, the team needs to do more research before this project could become commercial.
The robotic shorts are not yet perfect, however. The current design weighs only 11 pounds but the team is looking to improve this by introducing a design that weighs only 6 pounds.
“We tested the device with healthy people who already trained for multiple sessions with the actual suit, so you do need a certain time to adapt and learn how to benefit from the system,” Malcolm told Gizmodo. “[But] there’s no specific instructions. You just put it all in and walk and run some time with it.”
This research opens the door to more projects and development of exosuits. For example exosuits with back support could provide support for people who carry heavy objects, while also allowing people with disabilities to rehabilitate and walk again, Malcolm told Gizmodo.