Robotic exosuits have been used for a myriad of applications over the years — including use as a rehabilitation tool to assist those that have been in accidents, for others with limited mobility, and in the military to help soldiers carry heavy loads. Though all of those platforms were designed to assist in one form or another, they all tend to be on the bulky side, and not easy to maneuver while wearing them, not to mention most need to be tethered to a power source.
Researchers from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and the University of Nebraska (Omaha) have created a portable AI-driven exosuit that assists the wearer with gait-specific hip extension while both walking and running, and transitioning between the two. The suit has been in development for years from DARPA’s now-defunct Warrior Web program, which the researchers capitalized on for its current design.
The portable exosuit features a pair of textile components worn at the waist and thighs that are connected to an actuation system worn on the back, which is controlled by an AI algorithm that detects the user’s gait while walking and running and adjusts the suit accordingly. Bear in mind the suit is an assistive device designed to reduce the energy required for those gait motions, rather than a fully powered exoskeleton. Testing has shown that the device had reduced participants metabolic while walking by 9%, and 4% while running, compared to metabolic rates without using the suit.
The researchers hope their portable exosuit could be used outside of a rehabilitation setting, allowing anyone to use the platform. They do realize those percentages are on the low side, but the platform is proof that it can be used for more than one application.