Of all the recent advances in technology, perhaps none are as impressive as the ones being made in the field of robotics.
And when applied to healthcare and physical therapy, there are certainly few other technologies that are more life-changing.
Far from apocalyptic predictions that robots will crush mankind and take over the world, we’ve reported on numerous stories of robotics giving people newfound freedom and independence once thought impossible.
From bionic hands, bionic arms, robotic hands with their own “brains,” mind-reading robots, interactive robots with a sense of touch, and robots that care for the elderly in their homes in both Japan and Italy, this is a field that’s only going to grow further in the coming years.
Several such innovations originate from Switzerland, where scientists continue to make strong progress with robotic exoskeletons.
One of them is at ETH Zurich, which is raising the bar again…
The Next Generation of Exoskeleton Suits
As you may know, exoskeletons are becoming an increasingly popular tool in helping victims of paralysis, stroke, spinal injuries, and other disabilities regain their movement – and, in turn, some independence.
These suits are worn outside the body and deliver external energy that help patients move their limbs.
They’re not perfect, though.
Chief among the flaws are that they’re heavy, cumbersome, and have a limited range of motion. A patient’s joints can be misaligned with those of the exoskeleton, while the suits’ bulk can make climbing stairs or turning impossible.
But the team at ETH Zurich are trying to change that.
They’re working on a project that would both make the next generation of exoskeleton suits more comfortable and allow the wearer to change direction and tackle stairs.
Volker Bartenbach is one of the researchers and explains, “Hopefully, we’ll build systems that allow you to do more tasks. Besides walking in a straight line, you might be able to walk sideways in front of your kitchen counter, walk upstairs and down, and also turn around on the spot.”
So how close is the team to achieving these goals?
Flexibility and Comfort?
The current prototype shows promise.
It features a four-bar joint-linking mechanism that’s designed to replicate the structure and movement of the body’s lower limbs, such as the hips. For example, it helps patients rotate their hips around their axis, thus allowing them to turn more naturally.
Take a look…
The team also wants to create a softer, lighter exosuit, where force is transmitted through textiles, thus eliminating the current rigid, bulky designs.
If they’re successful, it would add a significant new layer to the already exciting innovation in this area – not only improving physical therapy and ultimate patient outcomes, but making it more comfortable for those patients, too.