The journal Science this week published as its cover story an article on robotic shorts. Nick-named ‘robo-shorts,’ it’s also referred to as ‘robotic exoskeleton,’ and even ‘exosuit,’ it was developed by researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute, a division of Harvard University in Boston, MA and in collaboration with other institutions.
The robo-shorts which focuses on soft robotics and bio-inspired mechanisms was designed to make walking or running more easy but not for heavy lifting or combat.
The shorts has a mechanism attached to it at the lower back with cables that go to straps on the legs to assist the leg in the hip-extension movement, a movement that is most common in walking or running tor any leg movement.
The mechanism is a neural computer network which will detect the movements of a wearers leg, such as whether they are walking or running and at what pace and what phase of that gait the leg is in and gives the leg movement a boost making it much easier to walk or run.
This is the sort of thing that the military is really interested in, not just to help an active duty soldier run twice as far or fast, but to also assist in recovery treatment of the wounded. This project began at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) an agency of the US Department of Defense. The exosuit was initiated several years ago by DARPA and is still ongoing.
Out of this though in the private sector, the robo-shorts is being designed to hopefully help a person who is recovering from an accident to walk farther without tiring so easily as well as assist an elderly person out of a chair or even walk better.
The device which includes the shorts, the pack and cable straps weighs in at approximately 11 pounds. Most of that weight is found in the battery and the motor pack attached at the top of the shorts around waist-level which helps the mechanism feel lighter.
Conor Walsh, who is the lead study author, says that the most promising applications for the robo-shorts device is for civilian use in the medical field and beyond. Walsh hopes that applications can be made to assist anyone who has walking impairment or industry workers who might be at risk of injuring themselves while doing physically strenuous work or even be used for weekend recreational activities.
The Harvard research team is working hard to reduce the weight of the mechanism as well as making the device more intuitive and even more powerful.