Date Presented:24-26 June
In this paper, we present the design and evaluation of a novel soft cable-driven exosuit that can apply forces to the body to assist walking. Unlike traditional exoskeletons which contain rigid framing elements, the soft exosuit is worn like clothing, yet can generate moments at the ankle and hip with magnitudes of 18% and 30% of those naturally generated by the body during walking, respectively. Our design uses geared motors to pull on Bowden cables connected to the suit near the ankle. The suit has the advantages over a traditional exoskeleton in that the wearer's joints are unconstrained by external rigid structures, and the worn part of the suit is extremely light, which minimizes the suit's unintentional interference with the body's natural biomechanics. However, a soft suit presents challenges related to actuation force transfer and control, since the body is compliant and cannot support large pressures comfortably. We discuss the design of the suit and actuation system, including principles by which soft suits can transfer force to the body effectively and the biological inspiration for the design. For a soft exosuit, an important design parameter is the combined effective stiffness of the suit and its interface to the wearer. We characterize the exosuit's effective stiffness, and present preliminary results from it generating assistive torques to a subject during walking. We envision such an exosuit having broad applicability for assisting healthy individuals as well as those with muscle weakness.