Bionic exoskeleton could help people walk again

Researchers at University of Pittsburgh are combining this robotic technology of an exoskeleton with sensory technology to make paralyzed muscles work with the use of ultrasound. The team recently created a prototype hybrid exoskeleton.

Photo
Nitin Sharma, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, tries on the prototype exoskeleton.
Source: Courtesy of Sharma Lab

The hybrid aspect comes from the two types of technology being used in this project, with electrodes sending ultrasound noninvasively to make paralyzed muscles work while the battery-powered bionic exoskeleton provides additional support to promote movement. “We’re trying to create a situation where the patient controls the exoskeleton, not the other way around,” said Nitin Sharma, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and the team’s principal investigator.

Current rehabilitative technologies predict remaining muscle function and how much assistance is needed for muscle movement, a process called electromyography. Correctly measuring how much assistance any rehabilitative device should provide is a challenge with this method, as it is limited to large muscle groups.

However, Sharma’s research uses ultrasound, rather than electricity, delivered through sensors placed on the body. This aims to more accurately measure how much movement a target muscle group can generate. Ultrasound stimulates the tissue beneath the skin’s surface using high-frequency sound waves that cannot be heard by humans. While the ultimate goal is to coordinate muscle movement for the entire leg, Sharma’s team is focusing on the ankle for now because it is “much more complicated” than other parts of the leg, Sharma said. “Unlike the knee joint which moves in one direction, the ankle can be flexed in multiple directions and different muscles activate that joint,” Sharma said. “With electromyography, it’s very challengi

Sensory technology

The prototype exoskeleton is being developed at Pitt’s Neuromuscular Control and Robotics Laboratory, also known as the Sharma Lab, and is wired to a power source. The final product will be able to function with a portable battery. In addition, the team is working on designs that will integrate these exoskeletons with wheelchairs other mobility technologies.

Sharma said the team will next find out whether the exoskeleton affects neurological behavior and muscle mass in the legs. The team also aims to slim down the 17 kilogram (37.5 pounds) prototype to make the exoskeleton more user friendly. “We added knee motors to the design, making it heavier. But we will be replacing many of our parts with aluminum and carbon fiber parts in the near future, so we are targeting a weight of under 12 kilograms (about 26.5 pounds) with the upgrades,” said Albert Dodson, a research associate in the Sharma Lab. “Exoskeletons are heavy, so what we’re proposing is that since people will be using their muscles, you don’t need these big exoskeletons,” Sharma said. “And if you use both your own muscles and these exoskeletons, you could also save power and walk for longer periods of time.”

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related articles

Bionic suit helps paralyzed patients stand and walk again

Bionic suit helps paralyzed patients stand and walk again

Patients undergoing physical rehabilitation at Rush for paralyzing injuries are being aided by a robotic suit designed to help raise people to full height and walk.

Exosuit makes stroke survivors walk farther

Exosuit makes stroke survivors walk farther

Research study in stroke survivors with chronic hemiparesis shows soft exosuit technology to bring immediate improvements in walking speed and endurance tests.

Robot-powered outfit is being fashioned to help seniors walk

Robot-powered outfit is being fashioned to help seniors walk

A new line of wearable robotics - a lightweight version of the armor that comic hero Iron Man wears - could keep seniors on their feet longer.

Walk and run more easily with an exosuit

Walk and run more easily with an exosuit

A versatile, portable exosuit that assists both walking and running highlights the potential for lightweight and non-restrictive wearable robots outside the lab.

A breakthrough for soft robots to advance artificial muscles

A breakthrough for soft robots to advance artificial muscles

Scientists have developed a tiny pump that could play a big role in the development of autonomous soft robots, lightweight exoskeletons and smart clothing.

Open-source bionic leg: platform aims to advance prosthetics

Open-source bionic leg: platform aims to advance prosthetics

The Open-Source Bionic Leg will enable investigators to efficiently solve challenges associated with controlling bionic legs across a range of activities in the lab and out in the community.

Paralyzed hand becomes functional again through exoskeleton

Paralyzed hand becomes functional again through exoskeleton

Researchers at the University of Stuttgart have built an exoskeleton with which the gripping ability of a paralyzed hand can be restored.

TWIICE One exoskeleton is a step towards independence

TWIICE One exoskeleton is a step towards independence

The new version of the TWIICE walking-assistance system is not only lighter, more comfortable and more powerful, but patients can also put it on and use it themselves.

Stroke patients: robotic arm aids in rehabilitation

Stroke patients: robotic arm aids in rehabilitation

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) recently developed a robotic arm to facilitate self-help and upper-limb mobile rehabilitation for stroke patients.

Popular articles