A soft robotic exosuit – worn like a pair of shorts – can make both walking and running easier for the wearer, a new study reports. The self-contained, portable device, which weighs only 11 pounds, is capable of detecting the wearer’s gait to provide the appropriate assistance, even in complex outdoor environments (see related video). It can reduce the metabolic cost of walking and running by 9.3% and 4.0%, respectively, the authors say – a range of improvement that has shown to be meaningful in athletic performance. While the biomechanics of walking and running are fundamentally different, the natural human body can rapidly switch between the two, resulting in a near-seamless transition between the gaits. However, developing robotic assistive devices that can provide benefits for both walking and running has been challenging, largely limiting research to augmentation of one or the other gait. Robotic exoskeletons, which mechanically augment the wearer’s movement, have been shown to reduce the metabolic cost of walking to rates below normal biological levels. However, similar devices designed for assisted running have not been as successful, increasing metabolic cost in some cases due to the devices’ weights. Jinsoo Kim and colleagues developed a functional robotic exosuit, consisting of a waist belt and two thigh wraps, and demonstrated its ability to reduce metabolic costs in both walking and running at different speeds and on challenging terrain. According to the authors, the observed metabolic reductions from wearing the suit are comparable to removing between 12 and 17 pounds from the wearer’s waist. In a related Perspective, José Pons discusses how advancements like Kim et al.’s are paving the way for implantable, neurologically controlled assistive robotics of the future.
Science Press Package Team