A robotic exoskeleton adapts to wearers to help them walk faster
The data the boot generates is fed into a machine learning model, which adjusts the device to personalize its support, applying force at the ankle to replace certain muscle functions. foot and help the wearer push off the ground while taking a step. This allows you to walk faster and with less effort. It only took an hour for the model to begin personalizing how the device aids the wearer, and because it continuously learns from sensor data, the device can adapt over time as the wearer’s gait changes.
The team found that the device increased walking speed by 9% and reduced energy expenditure by 17% in natural walking, compared with wearing normal shoes. Their findings are described in a paper in Nature today. When tested with other equivalent equipment on a treadmill, the exoskeleton doubled the effort. The researchers likened the energy savings and increased speed to “taking off a 30-pound backpack.”
Although supporting exoskeletons have been around for many years, they are difficult to fit individual wearers because they are often large and bulky. Their success has largely been limited to lab treadmills, and they’re expensive. The Stanford team’s exoskeleton is much smaller than others on the market and, importantly, easier to transport.
The project is the first time an exoskeleton has demonstrated human energy-saving capabilities under real-world conditions, the researchers claim. They are optimistic that it could help older people with limited mobility, or those with muscle problems, move more freely.
Kaspar Althoefer, head of the Center for Advanced Robotics at Queen Mary University of London, who was not involved in the research, said the team should be able to bring the product to the mass market.
“It will be very helpful for people who may not be well and want to go a little further,” he said.
The report’s authors are starting studies focused on supporting older adults, and they believe the prototype device could be developed into a commercial product that could ideally support people. when they go to do their daily business.
“We’re hoping this will be a little bit like an e-bike,” said Patrick Slade, who has studied exoskeletons as a doctoral student. “It doesn’t do all the work for you, but it gets to a level of effort that people are comfortable with.”