To understand the effects of soft exosuits on human loaded walking, we developed a reconfigurable multi-joint actuation platform that can provide synchronized forces to the ankle and hip joints. Two different assistive strategies were evaluated on eight subjects walking on a treadmill at a speed of 1.25 m/s with a 23.8 kg backpack: 1) hip extension assistance and 2) multi-joint assistance (hip extension, ankle plantarflexion and hip flexion). Results show that the exosuit introduces minimum changes to kinematics and reduces biological joint moments. A reduction trend in muscular activity was observed for both conditions. On average, the exosuit reduced the metabolic cost of walking by 0.21 ± 0.04 W/kg and 0.67 ± 0.09 W/kg for hip extension assistance and multi-joint assistance respectively, which is equivalent to an average metabolic reduction of 4.6% and 14.6% demonstrating that soft exosuits can effectively improve human walking efficiency during load carriage without affecting natural walking gait. Moreover, it indicates that actuating multiple joints with soft exosuits provides a significant benefit to muscular activity and metabolic cost compared to actuating single joint.
In this paper we describe an IMU-based iterative controller for hip extension assistance where the onset timing of assistance is based on an estimate of the maximum hip flexion angle. The controller was implemented on a mono-articular soft exosuit coupled to a lab-based multi-joint actuation platform that enables rapid reconfiguration of different sensors and control strategy implementation. The controller design is motivated by a model of the suit-human interface and utilizes an iterative control methodology that includes gait detection and step-by-step actuator position profile generation to control the onset timing, peak timing, and peak magnitude of the delivered force. This controller was evaluated on eight subjects walking on a treadmill at a speed of 1.5 m/s while carrying a load of 23 kg. Results showed that assistance could be delivered reliably across subjects. Specifically, for a given profile, the average delivered force started concurrently with the timing of the maximum hip flexion angle and reached its peak timing 22.7 ± 0.63% later in the gait cycle (desired 23%) with a peak magnitude of 198.2 ± 1.6 N (desired 200 N), equivalent to an average peak torque of 30.5 ± 4.7 Nm. This control approach was used to assess the metabolic effect of four different assistive profiles. Metabolic reductions ranging from 5.7% to 8.5% were found when comparing the powered conditions with the unpowered condition. This work enables studies to assess the biomechanical and physiological responses to different assistive profiles to determine the optimal hip extension assistance during walking.
Carrying load alters normal walking, imposes additional stress to the musculoskeletal system, and results in an increase in energy consumption and a consequent earlier onset of fatigue. This phenomenon is largely due to increased work requirements in lower extremity joints, in turn requiring higher muscle activation. The aim of this work was to assess the biomechanical and physiological effects of a multi-joint soft exosuit that applies assistive torques to the biological hip and ankle joints during loaded walking.
Exoskeletons comprised of rigid load-bearing structures have been developed for many years, but a new paradigm is to create “exosuits” that apply tensile forces to the body using textiles and utilize the body’s skeletal structure to support compressive forces. Exosuits are intended to augment the musculature by providing small to moderate levels of assistance at appropriate times in the walking cycle. They have a number of substantial benefits: with their fabric construction, exosuits eliminate problems of needing to align a rigid frame precisely with the biological joints and their inertia can be extremely low. In this paper, we present a fully portable hip-assistance exosuit that uses a backpack frame to attach to the torso, onto which is mounted a spooled-webbing actuator that connects to the back of the users thigh. The actuators, powered by a geared brushless motor connected to a spool via a timing belt, wind up seat-belt webbing onto the spool so that a large travel is possible with a simple, compact mechanism. Designed to be worn over the clothing, the webbing creates a large moment arm around the hip that provides torques in the sagittal plane of up to 30% of the nominal biological torques for level-ground walking. Due to its soft design, the system does not restrict the motion of the hip in the ab- and adduction directions or rotation about the leg axis. Here we present the design of the system along with some initial measurements of the system in use during walking on level ground at 1.25 m/s, where it creates a force of up to 150 N on the thigh, equivalent to a torque of 20.5 Nm to assist hip extension.
We present the design and evaluation of a multi-articular soft exosuit that is portable, fully autonomous, and provides assistive torques to the wearer at the ankle and hip during walking. Traditional rigid exoskeletons can be challenging to perfectly align with a wearer’s biological joints and can have large inertias, which can lead to the wearer altering their natural motion patterns. Exosuits, in comparison, use textiles to create tensile forces over the body in parallel with the muscles, enabling them to be light and not restrict the wearer’s kinematics. We describe the biologically inspired design and function of our exosuit, including a simplified model of the suit’s architecture and its interaction with the body. A key feature of the exosuit is that it can generate forces passively due to the body’s motion, similar to the body’s ligaments and tendons. These passively generated forces can be supplemented by actively contracting Bowden cables using geared electric motors, to create peak forces in the suit of up to 200 N. We define the suit–human series stiffness as an important parameter in the design of the exosuit and measure it on several subjects, and we perform human subjects testing to determine the biomechanical and physiological effects of the suit. Results from a five-subject study showed a minimal effect on gait kinematics and an average best-case metabolic reduction of 6.4%, comparing suit worn unpowered versus powered, during loaded walking with 34.6 kg of carried mass including the exosuit and actuators (2.0 kg on both legs, 10.1 kg total).
Exosuits represent a new approach for applying assistive forces to an individual, using soft textiles to interface to the wearer and transmit forces through specified load paths. In this paper we present a body-worn, multi-joint soft exosuit that assists both ankle plantar flexion and hip flexion through a multiarticular load path, and hip extension through a separate load path, at walking speeds up to 1.79m/s (4.0mph). The exosuit applies forces of 300N in the multiarticular load path and 150N in hip extension, which correspond to torques of 21% and 19% of the nominal biological moments at the ankle and hip during unloaded walking. The multi-joint soft exosuit uses a new actuation approach that exploits joint synergies, with one motor actuating the multiarticular load paths on both legs and one motor actuating the hip extension load paths on both legs, in order to reduce the total system weight. Control is accomplished by an algorithm that uses only a gyroscope at the heel and a load cell monitoring the suit tension, and is shown to adapt within a single step to changes in cadence. Additionally, the control algorithm can create slack in the suit during non-level-ground walking motions such as stepping over obstacles so that the system can be transparent to the wearer when required. The resulting system consumes 137W, and has a mass of 6.5kg including batteries.
Recently, there has been a growing interest in moving away from traditional rigid exoskeletons towards soft exosuits that can provide a variety of advantages including a reduction in both the weight carried by the wearer and the inertia experienced as the wearer flexes and extends their joints. These advantages are achieved by using structured functional textiles in combination with a flexible actuation scheme that enables assistive torques to be applied to the biological joints. Understanding the human-suit interface in these systems is important, as one of the key challenges with this approach is applying force to the human body in a manner that is safe, comfortable, and effective. This paper outlines a methodology for characterizing the structured functional textile of soft exosuits and then uses that methodology to evaluate several factors that lead to different suit-human series stiffnesses and pressure distributions over the body. These factors include the size of the force distribution area and the composition of the structured functional textile. Following the test results, design guidelines are suggested to maximize the safety, comfort, and efficiency of the exosuit.
Exosuits show much promise as a method for augmenting the body with lightweight, portable, and compliant wearable systems. We envision that such systems can be further refined so that they can be sufficiently low profile to fit under a wearer's existing clothing. Our focus is on creating an assistive device that provides a fraction of the nominal biological torques and does not provide external load transfer. In early work, we showed that the system can substantially maintain normal biomechanics and positively affect a wearer's metabolic rate. Many basic fundamental research and development challenges remain in actuator development, textile innovation, soft sensor development, human-machine interface (control), biomechanics, and physiology, which provides fertile ground for academic research in many disciplines. While we have focused on gait assistance thus far, numerous other applications are possible, including rehabilitation, upper body support, and assistance for other motions. We look forward to a future where wearable robots provide benefits for people across many areas of our society.