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Next Generation Soft Wearable Robots

Lecture

Next generation wearable robots will use soft materials such as textiles and elastomers to provide a more conformal, unobtrusive and compliant means to interface to the human body. These robots will augment the capabilities of healthy individuals (e.g. improved walking efficiency, increased grip strength) in addition to assisting patients who suffer from physical or neurological disorders. The fundamental premise of this research is that small to moderate levels of assistance, delivered through lightweight and flexible platforms can have significant and meaningful effects for both healthy and physically impaired individuals.

This talk will focus on soft wearable robots for the lower and upper extremity that demonstrate the design and fabrication principles required to realize these systems as well evidence of their utility through experiments on human subjects studies.

The first is a soft exosuit that that can apply assistive joint torques to synergistically propel the wearer forward and provide support to minimize loading on the musculoskeletal system. This is enabled through the unique use of force-transmitting, conformal textiles that anchor to the body, proximally-mounted cable-based actuation systems, and adaptive control algorithms that use the minimum number of sensors. Advantages of the suit over traditional exoskeletons are that the wearer’s joints are unconstrained by external rigid structures, and the worn part of the suit is extremely light, which minimizes the suit’s unintentional interference with the body’s natural biomechanics. Results will be presented that demonstrate a bilateral exosuit’s ability to reduce the energy cost of walking for healthy persons carrying heavy load and a unilateral exosuit can improve gait mechanics and reduced energy cost for patients poststroke.

The second is a soft robotic glove that can be used to restore an impaired patient’s ability to grasp objects during activities of daily living. The glove consists of a wearable textile with attached elastomeric fluid-powered actuators specially designed to match the natural movements of the fingers and thumb. This is achieved by combining elastomeric tubular bladders with anisotropic reinforcements in its wall to determine the resulting deformation upon pressurization. Demonstration of the soft robotic glove improving functional grasp in a muscular dystrophy patient will be shared, as well as preliminary efforts of a control system that can detect the intent of the wearer so as to enable intuitive operation.

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