Archives for posts with tag: wearable robots

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What makes life meaningful? For me, part of the answer has always been movement. The ability to move forward through situations, to walk, to run. The understanding of the devastation with cessation of movement has allowed me to work with patients to meet their goals in physical therapy. To stop moving is to pause life, and a person shouldn’t have to pause life just because of a change in their physical status.

Cybathlon is fast approaching. It is the culmination of what is great about technology, creativity, and human adaptability: pairing assistive robotic devices with disabled competitors in what will be the first ‘Cyborg Olympics.’ Since first writing of the event 2 years ago, I’ve been eagerly awaiting which products will support the pilots in each of the six disciplines.

The website is now updated, and the event is set with the teams, which include pilots (competitors) and the respective assistive robotic technologies which they will be using for the race. I’m looking forward to exploring and writing of the different technologies which the pilots will be using.

Beyond just the competitions, however, Cybathlon aims to connect academia, industry and the general public while bringing awareness to the issues surrounding those with disabilities. The event was created by a professor of ETH Zurich to connect these realms, and prior to the event there will also be a synopsium where researchers and experts will be able to discuss the technology surrounding the event.

Truly Cybathlon is amazing, from inception to organization. The event provides a platform not only for the athletes, but also for researchers and creators. The goal here is not opportunism, but rather progress and communication. From here, there can only be further advancement of human movement for those with disabilities.

Grip Glove

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The Wyss Institute at Harvard has many amazing projects, one of which currently is the soft robotic glove. Certain neurological diseases leave many patients with so much weakness and lack of motor control in the hands that they become limited in performing simple daily tasks such as grasping, holding, and lifting objects. These are activities that we often do mindlessly throughout the day, such as brushing our teeth, and as our need for fine motor tasks is so constant that we often do not give this much consideration.

Diseases such as muscular dystrophy, ALS, and incomplete spinal cord injuries can limit the neurological input to the muscles of the hand, decreasing a person’s strength and function. A disease that causes a lack of strength and progressive loss of motor control in the hands leaves its subjects essentially disabled, unable to hold even a cup without dropping it.

The soft robotic glove was developed with these kinds of diseases in mind, and fortunately also kept in mind was the ease of use and comfort for its user. A soft robotic is more flexible and able to mimic natural human movement much better than bulky and rigid external hardware. The motors in the Soft Robotic Glove rather mimic the grasping and fine motor tasks of a healthy hand/wrist complex, allowing more natural motion and improved grip. Much research was put into this project for actuators and sensors that mimic human force, pressure and grip to help clients restore some natural function of their hands.

Still in the development phase and not yet for sale on the market, please watch the video below for more information and insight on this amazing product.

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Each development in the exoskeleton industry seems more amazing and unbelievable, pushing users into a new frontier of possibility for motion. HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) by Cyberdyne, coined as “The world’s first cyborg-type robot,” is a thought-driven exoskeleton which provides gait assistance for its users, among other functions. Designed for both industrial use and motor relearning after neurological injury, HAL provides strength and facilitates feedback for those that need extra power with gait.

Cyberdyne explains HAL’s function from thought to movement in 7 steps. The process is initiated when the user thinks about the movement. In relearning movement after an injury, to include this thought component to the movement process is vital. In an uninjured person every voluntary movement begins in the motor cortex with thought, where the movement signal is ultimately sent to a muscle to produce movement. The way that HAL replicates this process is by attaching sensors on the wearer’s skin which receive these bio-electric signals (BES) from the brain. Upon receiving these signals, the body begins to move, causing the device to move as well, thereby assisting and adding power to human motion.

We are getting closer and closer to a device that will free those with spinal cord injuries, and other neurological injuries, from the restraint of a wheelchair. HAL is an amazing, well executed device.

Please visit the site for more information and sales inquiries. HAL has multiple variations of its product, including lumbar support for lifting and a cleaning robot.

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It is the exoskeleton which ignited my love for robotics, a device which both mirrors and enhances human function without replacing it. As with most technology, as the robotic exoskeleton develops it is moving away from bulky and functional to sleek and precise.

One such example of this development is the Cyclone Rope Piston by Rise Robotics. Rise Robotics has created an actuator (motor) which, paired with cables efficiently transfers power to the user. Just as a particular movement, such as holding something while bending and straightening the arm, is easier if a muscle is able to work throughout the entire range of motion, this motor helps generate power throughout the entire movement of the user. The development of such a motor potentially makes an exoskeleton much more functionally strong by generating more efficient power throughout the entire range of movement of the user.

The Cyclone Rope Piston allows for a lightweight wearable robot to assist with either strenuous activity for an able-bodied person, or movement assistance for rehabilitative purposes. This product is still in the funding phase.

For a more detailed explanation of the impressive and innovative mechanics of this system, I would recommend watching the extremely well made video below:

Silver nanowire sensors hold promise for prosthetics, robotics

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As wearable technology progresses, monitoring activity using these devices will require more accuracy as the user interacts with the environment. From fitness trackers to prosthetics, a wearable robotic device is extremely useful if its user is able to interact and gain feedback from its use. At North Carolina State University, researchers developed a silver-based nanowire sensor to monitor changes in pressure, finger touch, strain, and bioelectronic changes. As described in the study, the sensor involves a material placed between two conductors. The silver wires are the conductors, while the material in the middle is Ecoflex silicone and serves as the electric insulator. These sensors are moveable, stretchable, and respond to pressure changes in real time, within 40 milliseconds. Between these two layers an electric charge is stored, and as the sensor is stretched or deformed in any way, this change is interpreted as energy and measured.

The movements which these sensors are able to detect are walking, running, and jumping from squatting. For use in robotics devices such as exoskeletons and prosthetics, this information will become invaluable as the user will need this information in order to interact with the environment for safety and feedback purposes. The sensors can be used to ‘feel’ the environment, as well as to monitor movement and activity. For those with robotic prosthetic devices, these sensors can be used to provide important feedback to retrain the body and provide kinesthetic feedback.

One of the unique attributes of these sensors is their ability to deform and change shape with movement, as they can stretch up to 150% of their original shape.

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A lightweight wearable robot which subtly assists with human movement? The amazing innovation of wearable technology cannot be achieved without intelligence, countless hours of work, and years of research by those behind the products. Boosted by a recent DARPA grant, Harvard’s Wyss Insititute is developing a Soft Exosuit to assist with walking with the use of textiles and wearable sensors. While not yet a completed product for the market, it is already clear how this wearable robot can potentially change the lives of those with neurological disorders, muscle weakness, the elderly, and those that are fatigue-prone in professions such as the military and first responders.

The components of this product are amazing, especially in their consideration to avoid interference of the device with the user. Elastic textiles that align with certain muscle groups and transmit forces to the body to assist with natural, synergistic movement during gait. Because the textiles are elastic and are unable to measure angles at joints (as rigid components do normally), wearable sensors at the hip, calf and ankle monitor forces and changes in movement. The idea is to provide assistive torque at the joints to mimic normal muscle activity when needed. The sensors track the changes in movement to monitor the types of activities of the user, such as walking or running, to assist with the diversity of everyday activity.

Something especially interesting about the Exosuit is how closely it works with human physiology and biomechanics during gait, including the passive movement of the limbs during walking. Because the functional textiles stretch, they can closely align with muscle groups and assist movement without letting the components interfere with what is natural for the body.

Please see the video below for more:

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There is no doubt that robotics is changing and improving the field of healthcare. While there are many brilliant products being introduced in this field, it is the robotic exoskeleton that I personally find the most amazing. To think that one day we can completely eradicate the long term use of wheelchairs for people with neurological injuries and replace them with a wearable robot which allows them to stand and walk is absolutely inspiring.

The Indego is one of these devices. Weighing in at 26 pounds, this modular device comes in 5 pieces and is put on in components over the legs, hips and torso. The light frame of the device allows users to keep it on even while in a wheelchair prior to use. The device responds to weight shifts in order to guide movement. A forward lean allows the device to help users stand and walk, while leaning backward stops movement. Modular components at the hip and legs propel forward movement at the joints once initiated.

Currently only available for research purposes in rehabilitation centers, the website states it anticipates commercial sales in the US in 2016.

See the video below for demonstration and more information: