Wearable Robot Makes Mountain Climbing A Breeze For Seniors

You know, it’s just not fair. It seems that even if we stay active, age will eventually get the better of our muscles, robbing them of strength and our bodies of mobility. Canes and walkers do not provide additional strength, just support and reassurance in a treacherous landscape. What people could really benefit from are wearable robots that are able to compensate for a lack of muscle strength.

[Dr. Lee Jongwon] of the Korea Institute of Science and Technology has developed this very thing. MOONWALK-Omni is designed to “actively support leg strength in any direction”, and make one feel like they are walking on the moon. In order to test the wearable robot, [Dr. Jongwon] invited senior citizens to climb Korea’s Mount Yeongbong, which is some 604 meters (1980 feet) above sea level.

The robot weighs just 2 kg (about 4.5 lbs) and can be donned independently by the average adult in under ten seconds. There are four high-powered but ultra lightweight actuators on either side of the pelvis that aid balance and boost leg strength by up to 30%. This is all designed to increase propulsion.

An AI system works to analyze the wearer’s gait in real time in order to provide up-to-the-second effective muscle support in many different environments. One wearer, a formerly active mountain climber, reported feeling 10-20 years younger when reaching the top of Mount Yeongbong.

It’s quite interesting to see mobility robots outside of the simplicity of the rehabilitation setting. We have to wonder about the battery life. Will everyone over 65 be wearing these someday? We can only hope they become so affordable. In the meantime, here’s a wearable robot that travels all over your person for better telemetry.

An image of the track system of the Calico wearable on top of a garment. Different possible positions of the device (elbow, shoulder, etc) are shown by red dots overlayed on the top of the image.

The Calico Wearable Rides The Rails

If you’re feeling underwhelmed by yet another smartwatch announcement, then researchers at the University of Maryland may have just the wearable for you. Instead of just tracking your movement from one spot, Calico winds around you like a cartoon sidekick.

Using a “railway system,”(PDF) the Calico can travel around a garment to get better telemetry than if it were shackled to a wrist. By moving around the body, the robot can track exercise, teach dance moves, or take up-close heart measurements. Tracks can be magnetically linked across garments, and Calico can use different movement patterns to communicate information to the user.

This two-wheeled robot that rides the rails is built around a custom PCB with a MDBT42Q microcontroller for a brain which lets it communicate with a smartphone over Bluetooth Low Energy. Location is monitored by small magnets embedded in the silicone and plastic living hinge track, and it can use location as a way to provide “ambient visual feedback.”

The researchers even designed a friendly cover for the robot with googly eyes so that the device feels more personable. We think animated wearables could really take off since everyone loves cute animal companions, assuming they don’t fall into the uncanny valley.

If you love unusual wearables as much as we do, be sure to check out Wearable Sensors on Your Skin and the Wearable Cone of Silence.

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