Wear new exosuit and use slightly less energy

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Wear new exosuit and use slightly less energy

We’re going to need a new superhero after a team of U.S. and Korean researchers developed a wearable robot suit that allows the human inside to walk and run more easily.

It’s not buildings in a single bound, but it could provide a single-digit improvement in performance.

The “exosuit,” as it is known, was introduced in Science magazine Wednesday. The suit is worn and comes with a small device attached to the lower back. The authors of the article were from Chung-Ang University, Harvard University and the University of Nebraska Omaha.

Wearable robots are nothing new.

But this one is different. To date, the suits have helped performance while walking or running. This one does both.

Traditional wearable robots are made of hard materials. They are like devices connected to the body. The exosuit is built with fabric and sensors, making it lightweight and flexible so that it does not disturb the wearer’s body movements.

According to test results of users on treadmills, the exosuit reduced metabolic rates of those walking by 9.3 percent and 4 percent while running. Metabolic rates are linked to the energy consumed while moving.

Conor Walsh, a professor at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), said that the suit also performed well during uphill walking and other outdoor tests.

“While the metabolic reductions we found are modest, our study demonstrates that it is possible to have a portable wearable robot assist more than just a single activity, helping to pave the way for these systems to become ubiquitous in our lives,” said Walsh, according to the SEAS newsroom.

The reason it is difficult for wearable devices to assist both walking and running is because they require different biomechanics. Running requires more strength at the waist, thigh, shank and foot than walking. To make sure the wearable device supports both movements, it first has to automatically perceive whether the user is walking or running, then assist in a way that best fits that speed.

The breakthrough was noting that the body’s center of gravity differs when running or walking. The exosuit can perceive the state of movement before deciding on the most appropriate way to add strength.

“I have high hopes that our wearable robot will assist for a wide variety of purposes - from helping elderly people in their everyday lives, rehabilitation for patients and more specific jobs like soldiers and fire fighters,” said Professor Lee Gi-uk at Chung-Ang University’s department of mechanical engineering. Lee and Kim Jin-soo, a graduate student under Welsh at Harvard SEAS, were listed as co-first-authors of the exosuit report in Science.

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]

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