Wednesday 16 April, 2014

New robotic exoskeleton may help paraplegics walk and keep astronauts healthy in space

Published On: Fri, Oct 12th, 2012 | Hi-Tech Innovation | By BioNews

NASA and The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) of Pensacola, Fla., have jointly developed a robotic exoskeleton, which someday may help astronauts stay healthier in space and aid paraplegics in walking here on Earth.

Called X1, the 57-pound device is a robot that a human could wear over his or her body either to assist or inhibit movement in leg joints.

In the inhibit mode, the robotic device would be used as an in-space exercise machine to supply resistance against leg movement. The same technology could be used in reverse on the ground, potentially helping some individuals walk for the first time.

Project Engineer Shelley Rea demonstrates the X1 Robotic Exoskeleton for resistive exercise, rehabilitation and mobility augmentation in the Advanced Robotics Development Lab. Credit: Robert Markowitz

“Robotics is playing a key role aboard the International Space Station and will be critical in our future human exploration of deep space,” said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA”s Space Technology Program.

“What”s extraordinary about space technology and our work with projects like Robonaut are the unexpected possibilities space tech spinoffs may have right here on Earth. It”s exciting to see a NASA-developed technology might one day help people with serious ambulatory needs to begin to walk again, or even walk for the first time. That”s the sort of return on investment NASA is proud to give back to America and the world,” he stated.

Worn over the legs with a harness that reaches up the back and around the shoulders, X1 has 10 degrees of freedom, or joints – four motorized joints at the hips and the knees, and six passive joints that allow for sidestepping, turning and pointing, and flexing a foot. There also are multiple adjustment points, allowing the X1 to be used in many different ways.

X1 currently is in a research and development phase, where the primary focus is development, evaluation and improvement of the technology.

NASA is examining the potential for the X1 as an exercise device to improve crew health both aboard the space station and during future long-duration missions to an asteroid or Mars. Without taking up valuable space or weight during missions, X1 could replicate common crew exercises, which are vital to keeping astronauts healthy in microgravity.

In addition, the device has the ability to measure, record and stream back in real-time data to flight controllers on Earth, giving doctors better insight into the crew”s exercise.

X1 also could provide a robotic power boost to astronauts as they work on the surface of distant planetary bodies. Coupled with a spacesuit, X1 could provide additional force when needed during surface exploration, providing even more bang for its small bulk.

Here on Earth, IHMC is interested in developing and using X1 as an assistive walking device.

Using NASA technology and walking algorithms developed at IHMC, X1 has the potential to produce high torques to allow for assisted walking over varied terrain, as well as stair climbing. Preliminary studies using X1 for this purpose have already started at IHMC.

The potential of X1 extends to other applications, including rehabilitation, gait modification and offloading large amounts of weight from the wearer.

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