An ExoArm For The Elderly

Prosthetic and assistive technologies have come have come a long way in recent years. When there are not only major medical research organizations, but individuals getting on board designing tools to improve the lives of others? That’s something special. Enter a homebrew essay into this field: ExoArm.

Attached to the body via what was available — in this case, the support harness for a gas-powered weed-eater — which distributes the load across the upper body and an Arduino for a brain, ExoArm designer [Kristjan Berce] has since faced roadblocks with muscle sensors meant to enable more instinctive control. So — for now — functionality is limited to a simple up and down motion controlled by two switches. It is worth noting that the down switch is currently mounted in such a way that when the user moves their arm down, the ExoArm follows suit, so there is some natural feel to using the arm in its present iteration.

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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.

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Iron Man, In IRON!

Sometimes a project comes our way which has so much information contained in it as to be overwhelming, and on which it is difficult to know where to start. A good example is [Barry Armstead]’s Iron Man suit, to which we were introduced through a very long forum thread that spans several years.

Home-made armour is a staple of the cosplay world, with many astoundingly good creations being produced by fans. What makes [Barry]’s Iron Man suit stand out from the crowd is its construction; instead of fiberglass or vacuum-formed plastic he’s used real metal. (It’s steel. But steel contains iron, right? We’re calling poetic license.)

The best place to follow progress on the suit is probably [Barry]’s YouTube feed, in which he has so far racked up 44 build logs. We see joint articulation tests, early test walks, the iconic helmet taking shape, and the repulsor simulated with a nano sprayer. With so many videos to watch, you’ll be there quite a while. The one we’ll leave you with below the break is fairly straightforward, the first look at the entire exoskeleton in bare metal.

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Exoskeleton Designed for Children

Exoskeletons are demonstrably awesome, allowing humans to accomplish feats of strength beyond their normal capacity. The future is bright for the technology — not just for industrial and military applications, but especially in therapy and rehabilitation. Normally, one thinks of adults who have lost function in their limbs, but in the case of this exoskeleton, developed by The Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), children with spinal muscular atrophy are given a chance to lead an active life.

Designing prosthetics for children can be difficult since they are constantly growing, and CSIC’s is designed to be telescopic to accommodate patients between the ages 3-14. Five motors in each leg adapt to the individual symptoms of the patient through sensors which detect the child’s intent to move and simulates what would be their natural walking gait.

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Exoskeleton Boots Put a Spring in your Step

Human ancestors have been walking around on two legs for a few million years. We’d imagine that by now we’ve figured out a pretty efficient mechanism for getting around. Unconvinced, however, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed an “exo”-boot that reduces the metabolic rate of walking by seven percent. Best of all, the mechanism requires no additional source of active power input besides the human legs that are wearing them.

Upon close inspection, the boots reduce the overall applied torque at the angle joint at a critical point where the heel begins to lift off the ground. Energy in, energy out. The spring ratchets to a loaded position as the user plants their foot. This ratchet releases, re-engaging the stored spring force as the user brings their heel back off the ground. A seven percent reduction in metabolic rate may not sound like much, but, according to the paper, it’s the equivalent of about four kilograms less weight in your backpack on that next hiking trip.

As for what specific costs are being reduced to lower the body’s metabolic rate, the researchers still aren’t completely sure. An off-the-cuff look at the joints and moments from a mechanics perspective won’t give us a sure-fire answer since the energy consumption processes of muscles are, well, complicated. In fact, by varying spring stiffness in their design, they discovered that springs that were either too stiff or too loose had no effect on the metabolic rate. Yes, they’ve certainly stumbled on a sweet spot in terms of well-mixed circumstances, but the answer behind why the new robot-legs work so smoothly will be a study for the future.

If you haven’t jumped into the world of exo-skeleton building, let [James Hobson] be your guide into pushing our bounds with homebrew mechanical advantages. Now let’s keep our fingers crossed for some long-fall boots.

via [The Washington Post]

Homemade Exoskeleton Lifts Mini Cooper with Ease

As some of you may or may not know, I’m interested in everything exoskeleton related. I’ve been messing around with my own designs for the past year or so, and just this past weekend, tested out the latest lower body design. There are a lot of boring (and some would say safe) ways to test this. But that’s no fun. For my test I used the lower-half of the exoskeleton to pick up a Mini Cooper.

exoskeleton-curlYou might remember my original upper-body design which was something I threw together in my garage as a proof of concept. It worked well for what it was, and surprisingly, took the internet by storm — amassing over a million views in a single week for a video of me curling 170lbs in my backyard. The fire had started — I knew I had to make something better. And that was the beginning of my quest to build a full-body powered exoskeleton.

The biggest problem with the original was a lack of back support — it didn’t matter how much weight I could lift, it was still my feeble human skeleton taking the weight. So it was time to go back to the drawing board, and start the design from the ground up. Continue reading “Homemade Exoskeleton Lifts Mini Cooper with Ease”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Soft Orthotics

Nearly a million people in the US suffer from CP, a neurological disorder that causes spastic motion in the limbs. One of the biggest quality of life factors for CP sufferers is the ability to use their arms, and that means an expensive and clunky orthotic around their elbow. [Matthew] has a better idea: why not make a soft orthotic?

This is not [Matthew]’s first project with soft robotics. He’s the lead scientist at Super Releaser, the company responsible for the completely soft robotic Glaucus atlanticus and other soft pneumatic robots.

This soft, flexible orthotic exoskeleton is designed for sufferers of chronic movement disorders. Traditional orthotics are expensive, difficult to move, and uncomfortable, but by designing this orthotic to be just as strong but a little more forgiving, these devices minimize most of the problems.

The Neucuff is constructed out of extremely simple materials – just some neoprene, a velcro, and a CO2 cartridge. The problem with bringing this to market, as with all medical devices, is FDA requirements and certifications. That makes the Hackaday Prize an excellent opportunity for [Matthew] and the rest of Super Releaser, as well as anyone else trying to navigate regulatory requirements in order to change the world.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: