Exoskeleton “boots” help personalize walking needs

A person walks with the help of a portable ankle exoskeleton. Image courtesy of Kurt Hickman of Stanford University

Scientists have reported on an exoskeleton “boot” that helps users walk faster and more efficiently in real-world environments. The results demonstrate a new design approach to wearable robots and highlight the broad application prospects of such devices in daily life. The study was recently published in Nature.

By increasing walking speed and saving energy required, exoskeletons that support leg movement can help people with mobility impairments or who need to perform high-intensity physical work. Until then, the advantages of such devices were mainly demonstrated on treadmills in the lab, rather than in the real world, where walking speed and duration could vary.

To overcome these challenges, Patrick Slade and colleagues at Stanford University in the United States have developed a technology that combines a data-driven model with a low-cost, portable sensor. The model analyzes how the exoskeleton device affects walking based on the walking information collected by the sensor, such as ankle angle and speed, so that the device can be adjusted to fully adapt to the user’s individual walking characteristics. They found that this new technique is not only as effective as traditional lab methods used in optimizing exoskeletons, but also 4 times faster.

Based on experimental results and real-world optimization data, the researchers designed a specialized ankle exoskeleton, including one exoskeleton worn on each ankle and one battery pack for the waist. The device can increase walking speed by 9%, saving 17% of energy compared to natural walking in ordinary shoes, which is equivalent to taking away 9.2 kilograms of baggage.

The results of the study show that this new technology can make the exoskeleton more suitable for individual needs, thereby improving its performance. Further research is needed to promote the practical application of the device and to explore how the technology can be applied to other devices and activities. (Source: China Science Daily Jinnan)

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