Exoskeleton Aims to Prevent Falls for Seniors

When we think of exoskeletons, we tend to think along comic book lines: mechanical suits bestowing superhero strength upon the villain. But perhaps more practical uses for exoskeletons exists: restoring the ability to walk, for instance, or as in the case of these exoskeleton shorts, preventing hip fractures by detecting and correcting falls before they happen.

Falls and the debilitating injuries that can result are a cruel fact of life for the elderly, and anything that can potentially mitigate them could be a huge boon to public health. Falls often boil down to loss of balance from slipping, whether it be a loose rug, a patch of ice, or even the proverbial banana peel. The “Active Pelvic Orthosis” developed by [Vito Monaco] and colleagues seeks to sense slips and correct them by applying the correct torque to the hip joints. Looking a little bulky in their prototype form and still tethered to an external computer, the shorts have motors with harmonic drives and angle sensors for each hip, plus accelerometers to detect the kinematic signature of a slip. The researchers discovered that forcing the leg that slipped forward while driving the stable leg back helped reduce the possibility of a fall. The video below shows the shorts in action preventing falls on a slip-inducing treadmill.

At the Hackaday Unconference in Pasadena, we heard from [Raul Ocampo] on his idea for autonomous robots to catch falling seniors. Perhaps wearing the robot will end up being a better idea.

12 thoughts on “Exoskeleton Aims to Prevent Falls for Seniors

  1. Going to dig into this tonight, it should save me much time. My kids and I are already on the hook to fabricate an exoskeleton for a family member with a degenerative muscular disease which in most cases ends up similar to Stephen Hawking level mobility. For now though the main goal is fall prevention for a large tall senior.

    1. OK, so a good idea which will probably patented and due to price unavailable to him as he is living in America…
      But it is a great idea and we can probably figure out the sensors and motors to make this work.
      I was really hoping for a git or thingiverse link, CC designs, and GPL code.

    2. Depending on the disease, I’ve seen some interesting setups that use elastic bands to pull the feet up and reduce shuffling and trips. It’s basically a belt, some straps, and theraband. I’ve heard good things about them from people who are still walking with some difficulty.

  2. Great idea, it may even be helpful with the “freezing” that Parkinson’s disease sufferers have, but they will need to make it very robust and well packaged if it is to be useful in day to day situations.

  3. Such a cool thing :) I could really use one for my dad. He is making progress after his stroke but something like this could make it possible for home health care vs institutional (which sucks ass). I wish I had more know how to build one for him. I doubt I could afford the actual product. Still, it would be cool to go camping one more time. Keep up the good work, people that are smarter than me!

  4. This is a really cool idea, but I have reservations about the forced movement from the exoskeleton. While I’m sure it’s preferable to a hip fracture from a fall, I can only see the potential for (minor?) ankle, knee, or muscular/connective tissue injuries.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s