Innovation – Smart Exoskeletons

Innovation – Smart Exoskeletons -Wearable Medical Robots  by Maryanne Kane

Exoskeletons, the wearable medical robots that help impaired people to walk, just became smart.  Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Mechanical Engineering have developed breakthrough innovation for the bionic devices.  It’s a new algorithm called the human in the loop that learns and customizes the assistance based on the wearer’s every step.

Customized Innovation – Smart Exoskeletons for Walking and Running

The smart exoskeleton, wearable medical robots, is worn on the shin and foot.  It applies force to the ankle and toes and acts as a bionic medical device.  The innovation through the human in the loop algorithm with 11 able-bodied people took about an hour for the smart exoskeleton to optimize.  Remarkably once optimized it reduced the amount of energy expended by the participants walking on a treadmill by 24%.  Previous research on ankle exoskeletons resulted in energy reductions of 14%.

Personalized Exoskeleton Innovation

From an innovation perspective, the potential for this new generation of smart exoskeletons is significant.  People who have suffered a stroke, neurological impairment or amputation, resulting in difficulty walking, could greatly benefit from a smart exoskeleton designed to optimize the wearable medical device customization to them.  Reduced energy expenditure also indicates the smart exoskeletons could help able-bodied people walk longer and run faster.  It’s designed to enhance strength, mobility and endurance.  Smart exoskeletons are innovation with a wide array of applications including medical, military, industrial and consumer.

Fascinating Innovation  Optimization

During the optimization of the smart exoskeletons, the research participants walked on a treadmill at a steady pace.  Smart exoskeletons provided a series of different patterns of assistance to the ankles and toes.  Patterns included when the force was applied and the amount of force.  Algorithms tested each participants’ responses to 32 different patterns which changed every 2 minutes.  It then measured whether the pattern was making it easier or more difficult to walk.  By the end of the hour long sessions, the algorithm produced a unique pattern of assistance optimized for each individual.  And the patterns varied widely, underscoring the importance to the wearer of customization.

Two-Way Street :  Smart Exoskeleton & Wearer Learning

What is fascinating innovation is that smart exoskeletons learn and adapt from the wearer to optimize and customize the ease and gait of their walk.  Wearers also learn from the exoskeleton’s changing patterns and they adapt with the wearable medical robots.  It’s a 2 way street of innovation.

Next Smart Exoskeleton Innovation Steps

The Carnegie Mellon Research Team has a series of next steps planned in its quest to optimize and customize smart exoskeleton innovation. They plan to test the human in the loop algorithm to create a smart exoskeleton with six joints, designed to be worn on the entire lower half of the body.

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