Development of an exoskeleton for level-ground walking

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Presented By:
Johann Bernhardt
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Tell us briefly about your project. Is it a work of art or does it serve another function?

Even with my passion of building from scratch, is this not a usual home-made project or a costume made in the garage while watching some Sci-fi-movies. I moved a step forward and set this project on a professional level and development for my master´s thesis a functional soft exoskeleton, based on detailed research, simulations and engineering. This project includes the design, fabrication, and evaluation of such a device that assists the knee for uphill ascent by using minimal rigid components and soft textiles. Based on studies of biomechanical and bipedal movement, a control algorithm was designed, which allows the actuation system assisting at the right time.

When did you start working on this project and how long did it take you to complete?

The project started in April 2015 and I have been working on it for long 6 months.

What was your goal in building this project?

The goal of the device is to increase the mobility and daily physical activity of older adults, thus requiring them to increase their overall muscle activity even though the muscle activity required for a single step may be lower. In addition, the device aims to increase the mobility of older adults by making it easier for them to climb stairs and inclines both at home and in their communities. An assistive medical device, with low profile and light weight, will enable the elderly to have increased mobility, will be more likely to engage higher engagement with the community, and increased self-confidence with their life. It should not bear any extra weight or provide additional power. The possibility of normal walking on level ground or climbing stair is the prior object.

Does your project help to solve a problem? If so what problem?

About one million people worldwide are suffering from degenerative joint disease and presumably its incidence will further increase due to demographic and live-style changes. This leads to higher physical stress for the body, especially on the knee. In spite of this difficulty, elderly who wish to maintain mobility and autonomy throughout their lives could benefit by the development of new and efficient technologies, which creates the possibility to support the human body by medical robotic devices. To perform daily tasks many people at an advanced age use assistive devices as a support, but these are mostly limited in mobility and fail during ascend stairs and incline tasks. Many common tasks are normally more physically strenuous than walking on level ground, such as climbing stairs or outdoor hiking, and these activities are often not feasible by the elderly.

What makes your idea unique?

Traditional exoskeletons are rigid and actually far away from use in a normal environment. But, a combination of hard and soft material provides a light powered exosuit with higher flexibility in use and shape. Furthermore, a special designed multi-joint-frame allow the wearer to use it without any misalignment between knee and frame. This is very important for the comfort and usage of this device, otherwise it would be rejected by the person. This sounds unimportant, but fact is that the best technology is useless, if no one use it.

In what capacity are you using bearings and what type of bearings?

Each motor mount has one standard 10x20x5 mm ball bearing and every the multi-joint-linkage five 3x6x2mm roller bearing, inside the upper and lower part of the frame.

What is the most important thing you want people to know about your project?

Most of the time new technology belongs to young people. Elderly have normally some issues with that and reject the technology, because of their complexity. This project is designed to make it easier to accept and use it.

How will you use the $5,000 prize?

I would invest it in further developments as well as for new and durable parts like carbon and more efficient motors to get a more practical version.

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