Motorized Pants to Help Stroke Victims

The soft exoskeleton that looks like something out of a Sci-Fi movies has been developed at Harvard and could help victims of stoke walk easier whilst also help soldiers carry heavy backpacks. The unit works by helping propel the user’s legs forward and is very lightweight and efficient, so much so that it has caught the eye of the United States Defence Research unit DARPA, awarding the researchers a whopping $2.9 million to develop the suit.

Sleek Exoskeleton
Sleek Exoskeleton

There have been many attempts at the exoskeleton in the past but the unfortunate thing about most of them is that they are extremely power hungry and until micro-fusion is invented we have to make the suits very efficient or rather counter intuitively be tether to a power outlet.

This prototype is much more modest than the usual steel and carbon fibre ones we see with mesh, spandex and cables making up most of the unit. Unfortunately this suit is not designed for paralysed people but rather for individuals with weak muscles or victims of stroke. This prototype is unique because it is extremely efficient and achieves this by applying force in a way that closely aligns with our muscles natural movement. “It’s quite lightweight, flexible, and conformal,” says Conor Walsh, a professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering at Harvard. “It doesn’t disrupt normal walking and movement.”

The machine is designed to fit easily under clothes, and novel, soft sensors made of silicone rubber are integrated into the suit. The sensors, developed at another lab at Harvard, include embedded channels filled with a conductive liquid that changes in resistivity as the silicone is stretched.

The Researchers are now working on making the suit even more efficient by studying how different people use the device but alas energy storage is still a big issue and the team are hoping for advancements in battery technology to make the exoskeleton a realistic every day device for stroke victims and military personnel alike.

Stay Curious – C.Costigan

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