Soft Exosuits

M. B. Yandell, B. T. Quinlivan, D. Popov, C. Walsh, and K. E. Zelik, “Physical interface dynamics alter how robotic exosuits augment human movement: implications for optimizing wearable assistive devices,” Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 40, 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract


Wearable assistive devices have demonstrated the potential to improve mobility outcomes for individuals with disabilities, and to augment healthy human performance; however, these benefits depend on how effectively power is transmitted from the device to the human user. Quantifying and understanding this power transmission is challenging due to complex human-device interface dynamics that occur as biological tissues and physical interface materials deform and displace under load, absorbing and returning power.

Here we introduce a new methodology for quickly estimating interface power dynamics during movement tasks using common motion capture and force measurements, and then apply this method to quantify how a soft robotic ankle exosuit interacts with and transfers power to the human body during walking. We partition exosuit end-effector power (i.e., power output from the device) into power that augments ankle plantarflexion (termed augmentation power) vs. power that goes into deformation and motion of interface materials and underlying soft tissues (termed interface power).

We provide empirical evidence of how human-exosuit interfaces absorb and return energy, reshaping exosuit-to-human power flow and resulting in three key consequences: (i) During exosuit loading (as applied forces increased), about 55% of exosuit end-effector power was absorbed into the interfaces. (ii) However, during subsequent exosuit unloading (as applied forces decreased) most of the absorbed interface power was returned viscoelastically. Consequently, the majority (about 75%) of exosuit end-effector work over each stride contributed to augmenting ankle plantarflexion. (iii) Ankle augmentation power (and work) was delayed relative to exosuit end-effector power, due to these interface energy absorption and return dynamics.

Our findings elucidate the complexities of human-exosuit interface dynamics during transmission of power from assistive devices to the human body, and provide insight into improving the design and control of wearable robots. We conclude that in order to optimize the performance of wearable assistive devices it is important, throughout design and evaluation phases, to account for human-device interface dynamics that affect power transmission and thus human augmentation benefits.


Assistance magnitude versus metabolic cost reductions for a tethered multiarticular soft exosuit
B. T. Quinlivan, et al., “Assistance magnitude versus metabolic cost reductions for a tethered multiarticular soft exosuit,” Science Robotics, vol. 2, no. 2, 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

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).

E. Rogers, P. Polygerinos, S. Allen, F. A. Panizzolo, C. J. Walsh, and D. P. Holland, “A Quasi-Passive Knee Exoskeleton to Assist During Descent,” in International Symposium on Wearable Robotics (WeRob) 2016, La Granja, Spain, 2016. PDF
Y. Ding, et al., “Effect of timing of hip extension assistance during loaded walking with a soft exosuit,” Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, vol. 2016, no. 13, pp. 87, 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract


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).

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.

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).

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.


N. Karavas, et al., “Autonomous Soft Exosuit for Hip Extension Assistance,” in International Symposium on Wearable Robotics (WeRob) 2016, La Granja, Spain, 2016.
T. Miyatake, et al., “Biomechanical analysis and inertial sensing of ankle joint while stepping on an unanticipated bump,” in International Symposium on Wearable Robotics (WeRob) 2016, La Granja, Spain, 2016.
M. Grimmer, et al., “Comparison of Ankle Moment Inspired And Ankle Positive Power Inspired Controllers for a Multi-articular Soft Exosuit for Walking Assistance,” in International Symposium on Wearable Robotics (WeRob) 2016, La Granja, Spain, 2016.
H. Su, et al., “Evaluation of Force Tracking Controller with Soft Exosuit for Hip Extension Assistance,” in International Symposium on Wearable Robotics (WeRob) 2016, La Granja, Spain, 2016.
O. Araromi, C. J. Walsh, and R. J. Wood, “Fabrication of Stretchable Composites with Anisotropic Electrical Conductivity for Compliant Pressure Transducers,” in IEEE Sensors Conference 2016, Orlando, Florida, 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

We present a simple fabrication approach for anisotropically conductive stretchable composites, towards novel flexible pressure transducers. Flexible electronic systems have gained great interest in recent years, and within this space, anisotropic conducting materials have been explored for enhanced sensing performance. However, current methods for producing these materials are complex or are limited to small fabrication areas. Our method uses film applicator coating to render commercially available conductive RTVs anisotropically conductive. A ratio of in-plane surface resistance to through-thickness resistance of 1010 was achieved using our method. Furthermore, we show that when a normal pressure is applied to such films, the in-plane resistance can be reduced by seven orders of magnitude for an applied pressure of 10 kPa. Hence these materials show great promise for the development of novel, robust pressure transducers.

S. Lee, F. Panizzolo, T. Miyatake, D. M. Rossi, C. Siviy, and C. J. Walsh, “Lower limb biomechanical analysis of unanticipated step on a bump,” in Dynamic Walking, Holly, Michigan, USA, 2016.
J. Bae, et al., “Assisting paretic ankle motion with a soft exosuit can reduce whole-body compensatory gait patterns and improve walking efficiency for patients after stroke,” in Dynamic Walking, Holly, Michigan, USA, 2016.
F. A. Panizzolo, et al., “A biologically-inspired multi-joint soft exosuit that can reduce the energy cost of loaded walking,” Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 1-14, 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

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.

S. Lee, S. Crea, P. Malcolm, I. B. Galiana, A. T. Asbeck, and C. J. Walsh, “Controlling Negative and Positive Power at the Ankle with a Soft Exosuit,” in IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), Stockholm, Sweden, 2016. PDF
B. Quinlivan, et al., “Multi-articular soft exosuit continually reduces the metabolic cost of unloaded walking with increased assistance magnitude,” in Dynamic Walking, Holly, Michigan, USA, 2016.
C. Siviy, et al., “Optimization of soft exosuit peak force with ramp and step sweep protocol,” in Dynamic Walking, Holly, Michigan, USA, 2016.
L. N. Awad, et al., “A soft exosuit for assisting poststroke walking,” in 9th World Congress of Neurorehabilitation, Philadelphia, PA, USA, 2016.
L. N. Awad, et al., “Soft Wearable Robots Can Reduce the Energy Cost of Poststroke Walking: A Proof-of-Concept Study,” in Combined Sessions Meeting of the American Physical Therapy Association, Anaheim, CA, 2016.
P. Malcolm, et al., “Study of the contribution of negative work assistance at the ankle with a multi-articular soft exosuit during loaded walking,” in Dynamic Walking, Holly, Michigan, USA, 2016.
M. B. Yandell, D. Popov, B. Quinlivan, C. J. Walsh, and K. E. Zelik, “Systematic evaluation of human-exosuit physical interfaces,” in Dynamic Walking, Holly, Michigan, USA, 2016.
Y. Ding, et al., “Biomechanical and Physiological Evaluation of Multi-joint Assistance with Soft Exosuits,” IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering, vol. PP, no. 99, pp. 1, 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

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.