Inventions happen every day and every moment. The world advances improving along with it every aspect of human use and progress. Similarly, assisted walking just got smarter. A new algorithm for an exoskeleton uses direct feedback from the wearer to customize the assistance provided, according to a new study. The exoskeleton is worn on the shin and foot and applies forces to the ankle and toes.

People with physical impairments, such as those who have suffered a stroke, a neurological injury or an amputation, may realize benefits as well, Jackson said. A personalized exoskeleton could make walking as easy as or easier than it was before an amputation or injury. Previously, the largest average energy reductions achieved by other research teams were 14.5 percent, using manually adjusted ankle exoskeletons worn on both legs, and 22.8 percent, using an exosuit that acted on both hips and both ankles using preprogrammed settings. But the CMU human-in-the-loop algorithm performed better, and it didn't rely on preprogramming. In experiments with 11 able-bodied people, the so-called human-in-the-loop algorithm took about an hour to optimize the exoskeleton, and afterward, reduced the amount of energy participants needed to walk by 24 percent, on average, said research team member Rachel Jackson, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). "The size of the reduction was pretty astounding," Jackson told Live Science. The challenge with exoskeletons is that although they're meant to assist a person, they can impede motion, said Jackson. For starters, each device comes with its own weight, ranging from a few ounces to a couple of pounds, and the user has to carry that weight. Exoskeletons are also designed to apply force to certain parts of the body, but if the timing of the force is off, the person may need to use more energy to move, Jackson said. And that's counterproductive. During the optimization phase of the recent study, each participant wore an ankle exoskeleton as well as a mask designed to measure levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide (CO2). These measures relate to how much energy the person is expending. As each person walked on a treadmill at a steady pace, the exoskeleton applied a set of different patterns of assistance to the ankles and toes. Those patterns were a combination of when the force was applied and the amount of force. For instance, forces could be applied early in a stance (when the heel first hits the ground), in the middle of the stance (when the foot is flat) or late in stance (when the foot has rolled up to the toe). During those variations in positions, a greater or smaller amount of force could be applied.The algorithm tested the participants' responses to 32 different patterns, which changed every 2 minutes. Then, it measured whether the pattern was making it easier or more difficult for the person to walk.By the end of the session, which lasted just longer than an hour, the algorithm produced a unique pattern of assistance optimized for each individual."In terms of the general shape of the patterns, there was large variability, which speaks to the importance of customizing these strategies to each person, rather than applying that same thing to everybody," Jackson said.She added that the device may have worked well not just because it was "learning," but also because as it changed up the pattern of assistance, the person using it was also learning."We think that it forces people to explore different ways of coordinating their gait to interact better with the device," Jackson said. That helps guide the person on how best to use the device and derive the greatest benefit from it. "It's a two-way street," she said.Other members of the team plan to test how the algorithm could be scaled up to create an exoskeleton with six joints, designed to be worn on the entire lower half of the body.

A team of Italian and Swiss researchers has developed a prototype exoskeleton that can prevent elderly people from falling. The device is wearable from the waist down and made of carbon fiber braces. These can be easily adjusted to the wearer by tightening a few nuts and bolts. Once the exoskeleton is fitted, it must first learn the specific walking patterns of the user, known as gait. The exoskeleton then uses an algorithm to detect deviations from the user's regular movement and recognize the onset of a fall.To simulate a fall, researchers had 69-year-old volunteer, Fulvio Bertelli, walk on a treadmill designed to unexpectedly slide out from under him and make him lose his balance. When this happened, motors fitted to the exoskeleton pushed down on both of Bertelli's thighs to re-stabilize him. "Our study revealed that a wearable robotic platform can effectively interact with humans during reactive motor responses, such as accidental slipping," said Vito Monaco, an expert in locomotion biometrics. "These results open new perspectives for researchers who are expected to develop robotic platforms for enhancing human capabilities all day long.” Researchers say the next step is to create an exoskeleton that is more discrete and portable so that is can be used in real-life environments. The idea is that the exoskeleton can also be used by people who are physically impaired and by individuals suffering from neurological disorders.

Indeed this progress in the field of amputations and prosthetics has eased the lives of millions of people. As we all know this just does not only help in bringing convenience but also helps in boosting self image and self confidence of many.


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