When defining requirements for any wearable robot for walking assistance, it is important to maximize the user’s metabolic benefit resulting from the exosuit assistance while limiting the metabolic penalty of carrying the system’s mass. Thus, the aim of this study was to isolate and characterize the relationship between assistance magnitude and the metabolic cost of walking while also examining changes to the wearer’s underlying gait mechanics. The study was performed with a tethered multiarticular soft exosuit during normal walking, where assistance was directly applied at the ankle joint and indirectly at the hip due to a textile architecture. The exosuit controller was designed such that the delivered torque profile at the ankle joint approximated that of the biological torque during normal walking. Seven participants walked on a treadmill at 1.5 meters per second under one unpowered and four powered conditions, where the peak moment applied at the ankle joint was varied from about 10 to 38% of biological ankle moment (equivalent to an applied force of 18.7 to 75.0% of body weight). Results showed that, with increasing exosuit assistance, net metabolic rate continually decreased within the tested range. When maximum assistance was applied, the metabolic rate of walking was reduced by 22.83 ± 3.17% relative to the powered-off condition (mean ± SEM).
Soft actuators are the components responsible for producing motion in soft robots. Although soft actuators have allowed for a variety of innovative applications, there is a need for design tools that can help to efficiently and systematically design actuators for particular functions. Mathematical modeling of soft actuators is an area that is still in its infancy but has the potential to provide quantitative insights into the response of the actuators. These insights can be used to guide actuator design, thus accelerating the design process. Here, we study fluid-powered fiber-reinforced actuators, because these have previously been shown to be capable of producing a wide range of motions. We present a design strategy that takes a kinematic trajectory as its input and uses analytical modeling based on nonlinear elasticity and optimization to identify the optimal design parameters for an actuator that will follow this trajectory upon pressurization. We experimentally verify our modeling approach, and finally we demonstrate how the strategy works, by designing actuators that replicate the motion of the index finger and thumb.
There is much interest in form-fitting, low-modulus, implantable devices or soft robots that can mimic or assist in complex biological functions such as the contraction of heart muscle. We present a soft robotic sleeve that is implanted around the heart and actively compresses and twists to act as a cardiac ventricular assist device. The sleeve does not contact blood, obviating the need for anticoagulation therapy or blood thinners, and reduces complications with current ventricular assist devices, such as clotting and infection. Our approach used a biologically inspired design to orient individual contracting elements or actuators in a layered helical and circumferential fashion, mimicking the orientation of the outer two muscle layers of the mammalian heart. The resulting implantable soft robot mimicked the form and function of the native heart, with a stiffness value of the same order of magnitude as that of the heart tissue. We demonstrated feasibility of this soft sleeve device for supporting heart function in a porcine model of acute heart failure. The soft robotic sleeve can be customized to patient-specific needs and may have the potential to act as a bridge to transplant for patients with heart failure.
The Soft Robotics Toolkit (SRT) is an open-access website containing detailed information about the design, fabrication, and characterization of soft-robotic components and systems (Figure 1). Soft robotics is a growing field of research concerned with the development of electromechanical technology composed of compliant materials or structures. The SRT website hosts design files, multimedia fabrication instructions, and software tutorials submitted by an international community of soft-robotics researchers and designers. In this article, we describe the development of the SRT and some challenges in developing widely disseminated robotic-hardware resources. Our attempts to overcome these challenges in the development of the toolkit are discussed by focusing on strategies that have been used to engage participants ranging from K-12 grade students to robotics research groups. A series of design competitions encouraged people to use and contribute to the toolkit. New fabrication methods requiring only low-cost and accessible materials were developed to lower the entry barriers to soft robotics and instructional materials and outreach activities were used to engage new audiences. We hope that our experiences in developing and scaling the toolkit may serve as guidance for other open robotic-hardware projects.
Background Recent advances in wearable robotic devices have demonstrated the ability to reduce the metabolic cost of walking by assisting the ankle joint. To achieve greater gains in the future it will be important to determine optimal actuation parameters and explore the effect of assisting other joints. The aim of the present work is to investigate how the timing of hip extension assistance affects the positive mechanical power delivered by an exosuit and its effect on biological joint power and metabolic cost during loaded walking. In this study, we evaluated 4 different hip assistive profiles with different actuation timings: early-start-early-peak (ESEP), early-start-late-peak (ESLP), late-start-early-peak (LSEP), late-start-late-peak (LSLP).
Methods Eight healthy participants walked on a treadmill at a constant speed of 1.5 m · s-1 while carrying a 23 kg backpack load. We tested five different conditions: four with the assistive profiles described above and one unpowered condition where no assistance was provided. We evaluated participants’ lower limb kinetics, kinematics, metabolic cost and muscle activation.
Results The variation of timing in the hip extension assistance resulted in a different amount of mechanical power delivered to the wearer across conditions; with the ESLP condition providing a significantly higher amount of positive mechanical power (0.219 ± 0.006 W · kg-1) with respect to the other powered conditions. Biological joint power was significantly reduced at the hip (ESEP and ESLP) and at the knee (ESEP, ESLP and LSEP) with respect to the unpowered condition. Further, all assistive profiles significantly reduced the metabolic cost of walking compared to the unpowered condition by 5.7 ± 1.5 %, 8.5 ± 0.9 %, 6.3 ± 1.4 % and 7.1 ± 1.9 % (mean ± SE for ESEP, ESLP, LSEP, LSLP, respectively).
Conclusions The highest positive mechanical power delivered by the soft exosuit was reported in the ESLP condition, which showed also a significant reduction in both biological hip and knee joint power. Further, the ESLP condition had the highest average metabolic reduction among the powered conditions. Future work on autonomous hip exoskeletons may incorporate these considerations when designing effective control strategies.
Soft bending actuators are inherently compliant, compact, and lightweight. They are preferable candidates over rigid actuators for robotic applications ranging from physical human interaction to delicate object manipulation. However, characterizing and predicting their behaviors are challenging due to the material nonlinearities and the complex motions they can produce. This paper investigates a soft bending actuator design that uses a single air chamber and fiber reinforcements. Additionally, the actuator design incorporates a sensing layer to enable real-time bending angle measurement for analysis and control. In order to study the bending and force exertion characteristics when interacting with the environment, a quasistatic analytical model is developed based on the bending moments generated from the applied internal pressure and stretches of the soft materials. Comparatively, a finite-element method model is created for the same actuator design. Both the analytical model and the finite-element model are used in the fiber reinforcement analysis and the validation experiments with fabricated actuators. The experimental results demonstrate that the analytical model captures the relationships of supplied air pressure, actuator bending angle, and interaction force at the actuator tip. Moreover, it is shown that an off-the-shelf bend angle sensor integrated to the actuator in this study could provide real-time force estimation, thus eliminating the need for a force sensor.
Light-Intensity Modulated (LIM) force sensors are seeing increasing interest in the field of surgical robotics and flexible systems in particular. However, such sensing modalities are notoriously susceptible to ambient effects such as temperature and environmental irradiance which can register as false force readings. We explore machine learning techniques to dynamically compensate for environmental biases that plague multi-axis optoelectronic force sensors. In this work, we fabricate a multisensor: three-axis LIM force sensor with integrated temperature and ambient irradiance sensing manufactured via a monolithic, origami-inspired fabrication process called printed-circuit MEMS. We explore machine learning regression techniques to compensate for temperature and ambient light sensitivity using on-board environmental sensor data. We compare batch-based ridge regression, kernelized regression and support vector techniques to baseline ordinary least-squares estimates to show that on-board environmental monitoring can substantially improve sensor force tracking performance and output stability under variable lighting and large (>100C) thermal gradients. By augmenting the least-squares estimate with nonlinear functions describing both environmental disturbances and cross-axis coupling effects, we can reduce the error in Fx, Fy and Fz by 10%, 33%, and 73%, respectively. We assess viability of each algorithm tested in terms of both prediction accuracy and computational overhead, and analyze kernel-based regression for prediction in the context of online force feedback and haptics applications in surgical robotics. Finally, we suggest future work for fast approximation and prediction using stochastic, sparse kernel techniques.
Recent advances in medical robotics have initiated a transition from rigid serial manipulators to flexible or continuum robots capable of navigating to confined anatomy within the body. A desire for further procedure minimization is a key accelerator for the development of these flexible systems where the end goal is to provide access to the previously inaccessible anatomical workspaces and enable new minimally invasive surgical (MIS) procedures. While sophisticated navigation and control capabilities have been demonstrated for such systems, existing manufacturing approaches have limited the capabilities of millimeter-scale end-effectors for these flexible systems to date and, to achieve next generation highly functional end-effectors for surgical robots, advanced manufacturing approaches are required. We address this challenge by utilizing a disruptive 2D layer-by-layer precision fabrication process (inspired by printed circuit board manufacturing) that can create functional 3D mechanisms by folding 2D layers of materials which may be structural, flexible, adhesive, or conductive. Such an approach enables actuation, sensing, and circuitry to be directly integrated with the articulating features by selecting the appropriate materials during the layer-by-layer manufacturing process. To demonstrate the efficacy of this technology, we use it to fabricate three modular robotic components at the millimeter-scale: (1) sensors, (2) mechanisms, and (3) actuators. These modules could potentially be implemented into transendoscopic systems, enabling bilateral grasping, retraction and cutting, and could potentially mitigate challenging MIS interventions performed via endoscopy or flexible means. This research lays the ground work for new mechanism, sensor and actuation technologies that can be readily integrated via new millimeter-scale layer-by-layer manufacturing approaches.
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.
Severe skeletal muscle injuries are common and can lead to extensive fibrosis, scarring, and loss of function. Clinically, no therapeutic intervention exists that allows for a full functional restoration. As a result, both drug and cellular therapies are being widely investigated for treatment of muscle injury. Because muscle is known to respond to mechanical loading, we investigated instead whether a material system capable of massage-like compressions could promote regeneration. Magnetic actuation of biphasic ferrogel scaffolds implanted at the site of muscle injury resulted in uniform cyclic compressions that led to reduced fibrous capsule formation around the implant, as well as reduced fibrosis and inflammation in the injured muscle. In contrast, no significant effect of ferrogel actuation on muscle vascularization or perfusion was found. Strikingly, ferrogel-driven mechanical compressions led to enhanced muscle regeneration and a ∼threefold increase in maximum contractile force of the treated muscle at 2 wk compared with no-treatment controls. Although this study focuses on the repair of severely injured skeletal muscle, magnetically stimulated bioagent-free ferrogels may find broad utility in the field of regenerative medicine.
The innovation in surgical robotics has seen a shift toward flexible systems that can access remote locations inside the body. However, a general reliance on the conventional fabrication techniques ultimately limits the complexity and the sophistication of the distal implementations of such systems, and poses a barrier to further innovation and widespread adoption. In this paper, we present a novel, self-assembling force sensor manufactured using a composite lamination fabrication process, wherein linkages pre-machined in the laminate provide the required degrees-of-freedom and fold patterns to facilitate self-assembly. Using the purely 2-D fabrication techniques, the energy contained within a planar elastic biasing element directly integrated into the laminate is released post-fabrication, allowing the sensor to self-assemble into its final 3-D shape. The sensors are batch-fabricated, further driving down the production costs. The transduction mechanism relies on the principle of light intensity modulation, which allows the sensor to detect axial forces with millinewton-level resolution. The geometry of the sensor was selected based on the size constraints inherent in minimally invasive surgery, as well as with a specific focus on optimizing the sensor's linearity. The sensor is unique from the fiber-based force sensors in that the emitter and the detector are encapsulated within the sensor itself. The bare sensor operates over a force range of 0-200 mN, with a sensitivity of 5 V/N and a resolution of 0.8 mN. The experimental results show that the sensor's stiffness can be tuned using a thicker material for the spring layer and/or encapsulation/integration with soft materials. The empirical validation shows that the sensor has the sensitivity and the resolution necessary to discern the biologically relevant forces in a simulated cannulation task.
Introduction: Inclined walking while carrying a loaded backpack induces fatigue, which may destabilize gait and lead to injury. Stochastic resonance (SR) technology has been used to stabilize spatiotemporal gait characteristics of elderly individuals but has not been tested on healthy recreational athletes. Herein, we determined if sustained vigorous walking on an inclined surface while carrying a load destabilizes gait and if SR has a further effect.
Methods: Participants were fitted with a backpack weighing 30% of their body weight and asked to walk at a constant self-selected pace while their feet were tracked using an optical motion capture system. Their shoes were fitted with SR insoles that were set at 90% of the participant’s sensory threshold. The treadmill incline was increased every 5 min until volitional exhaustion after which the treadmill was returned to a level grade. SR stimulation was turned ON and OFF in a pairwise random fashion throughout the protocol. Spatiotemporal gait characteristics were calculated when SR was ON and OFF for the BASELINE period, the MAX perceived exertion period, and the POST period.
Results: Vigorous activity increases variability in the rhythmic stepping (stride time and stride length) and balance control (double support time and stride width) mechanisms of gait. Overall, SR increased stride width variability by 9% before, during, and after a fatiguing exercise.
Conclusion: The increased stride time and stride length variability may compromise the stability of gait during and after vigorous walking. However, participants may compensate by increasing double support time and stride width variability to maintain their stability under these adverse conditions. Furthermore, applying SR resulted in an additional increase of stride width variability and may potentially improve balance before, during, and after adverse walking conditions.
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.
Closing small defects in the body typically requires stitching of tissues during surgery. Toward a minimally invasive approach, Roche et al. engineered a balloon catheter with a reflective surface coating that could be used to adhere biodegradable patches to tissues. The device unfolds the patch and its adhesive, delivers ultraviolet (UV) light, and then applies pressure to stabilize the adhesive as the light cures the polymer. The authors demonstrated catheter-mediated application of the photocurable polymer patch in vivo in rat tissue, with minimal inflammation and complete animal survival, as well as in a challenging septal defect in the beating hearts of pigs. The device was also used to seal porcine stomach ulcers and abdominal hernias ex vivo, suggesting versatility of this approach in repairing defects more easily and atraumatically than sutures.A congenital or iatrogenic tissue defect often requires closure by open surgery or metallic components that can erode tissue. Biodegradable, hydrophobic light-activated adhesives represent an attractive alternative to sutures, but lack a specifically designed minimally invasive delivery tool, which limits their clinical translation. We developed a multifunctional, catheter-based technology with no implantable rigid components that functions by unfolding an adhesive-loaded elastic patch and deploying a double-balloon design to stabilize and apply pressure to the patch against the tissue defect site. The device uses a fiber-optic system and reflective metallic coating to uniformly disperse ultraviolet light for adhesive activation. Using this device, we demonstrate closure on the distal side of a defect in porcine abdominal wall, stomach, and heart tissue ex vivo. The catheter was further evaluated as a potential tool for tissue closure in vivo in rat heart and abdomen and as a perventricular tool for closure of a challenging cardiac septal defect in a large animal (porcine) model. Patches attached to the heart and abdominal wall with the device showed similar inflammatory response as sutures, with 100% small animal survival, indicating safety. In the large animal model, a ventricular septal defect in a beating heart was reduced to <1.6 mm. This new therapeutic platform has utility in a range of clinical scenarios that warrant minimally invasive and atraumatic repair of hard-to-reach defects.
In this work we investigate the influence of fiber angle on the deformation of fiber-reinforced soft fluidic actuators and examine the manner in which these actuators extend axially, expand radially and twist about their axis as a function of input pressure. We study the quantitative relationship between fiber angle and actuator deformation by performing finite element simulations for actuators with a range of different fiber angles, and we verify the simulation results by experimentally characterizing the actuators. By combining actuator segments in series, we can achieve combinations of motions tailored to specific tasks. We demonstrate this by using the results of simulations of separate actuators to design a segmented wormlike soft robot capable of propelling itself through a tube and performing an orientation-specific peg insertion task at the end of the tube. Understanding the relationship between fiber angle and pressurization response of these soft fluidic actuators enables rapid exploration of the design space, opening the door to the iteration of exciting soft robot concepts such as flexible and compliant endoscopes, pipe inspection devices, and assembly line robots.
This paper details the design, analysis, fabrication, and validation of a deployable, atraumatic grasper intended for retraction and manipulation tasks in manual and robotic minimally invasive surgical (MIS) procedures. Fabricated using a combination of shape deposition manufacturing (SDM) and 3D printing, the device (which acts as a deployable end-effector for robotic platforms) has the potential to reduce the risk of intraoperative hemorrhage by providing a soft, compliant interface between delicate tissue structures and the metal laparoscopic forceps and graspers that are currently used to manipulate and retract these structures on an ad hoc basis. This paper introduces a general analytical framework for designing SDM fingers where the desire is to predict the shape and the transmission ratio, and this framework was used to design a multijointed grasper that relies on geometric trapping to manipulate tissue, rather than friction or pinching, to provide a safe, stable, adaptive, and conformable means for manipulation. Passive structural compliance, coupled with active grip force monitoring enabled by embedded pressure sensors, helps to reduce the cognitive load on the surgeon. Initial manipulation tasks in a simulated environment have demonstrated that the device can be deployed though a 15 mm trocar and develop a stable grasp using Intuitive Surgical's daVinci robotic platform to deftly manipulate a tissue analog.
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 report a new method for fabricating textile integrable capacitive soft strain sensors based on multicore–shell fiber printing. The fiber sensors consist of four concentric, alternating layers of conductor and dielectric, respectively. These wearable sensors provide accurate and hysteresis-free strain measurements under both static and dynamic conditions.
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).
The spectrum of ischaemic cardiomyopathy, encompassing acute myocardial infarction to congestive heart failure is a significant clinical issue in the modern era. This group of diseases is an enormous source of morbidity and mortality and underlies significant healthcare costs worldwide. Cardiac regenerative therapy, whereby pro-regenerative cells, drugs or growth factors are administered to damaged and ischaemic myocardium has demonstrated significant potential, especially preclinically. While some of these strategies have demonstrated a measure of success in clinical trials, tangible clinical translation has been slow. To date, the majority of clinical studies and a significant number of preclinical studies have utilised relatively simple delivery methods for regenerative therapeutics, such as simple systemic administration or local injection in saline carrier vehicles. Here, we review cardiac regenerative strategies with a particular focus on advanced delivery concepts as a potential means to enhance treatment efficacy and tolerability and ultimately, clinical translation. These include (i) delivery of therapeutic agents in biomaterial carriers, (ii) nanoparticulate encapsulation, (iii) multimodal therapeutic strategies and (iv) localised, minimally invasive delivery via percutaneous transcatheter systems.