New Lightweight, Portable Robotic Suit Can Help You Move, Run Faster

Who said only Iron Man can bring and wear his high tech suit anywhere? Researchers have developed a new lightweight and easy-to-use robotic suit, designed to boost the user’s ability to walk, run and move. 

Over the past years, scientists have been developing wearable devices, called robotic exoskeletons, to improve how people move, walk and run. However, these suits have some limitations. 

"Robotic exoskeletons tend to be bulky and heavy; and while walking experiments have shown promising results, the energy spent running with the added weight of the device outweighs the benefits of robotic assistance," Giuk Lee, a professor at Chung-Ang University in Seoul, South Korea, said in a statement

Researchers used multiple and heavy external frames to meet the required biomechanics for walking and running. But Lee and colleagues developed a new robotic suit that eliminates the need for extra components to support different movements. 

For patients recovering from surgery or stroke, those with Parkinson's Disease, those with restricted mobility, and even for soldiers or firemen carrying heavy loads over difficult terrain, walking or running can be a struggle. 

The suit uses fabric vest, belt and thigh wraps connected by wires and small motor-like device. Researchers said it only weighs 5 kg and can be used just like typical clothes. 

Aside from being lightweight and portable, the robotic suit, described in the journal Science, also has a unique feature that allows it to switch assistance mode automatically between walking and running gaits. Researchers tested that technology on treadmills and outdoors to see how it works on flat ground and on different terrains.

Results showed that in both indoor and outdoor tests, the suit’s algorithm correctly identified walking and running gaits more than 99.98 percent of the time. The automatic adjustment to movement also allowed the suit to use less energy compared to heavier exoskeletons. 

Researchers also looked into how the lighter robotic suit achieved metabolic savings. The automatic assistance helped the user reduce energy cost of walking at a speed of 1.5 meters per second by 9.3 percent, which is equivalent to 7.4 kg of lost weight. 

"We are expecting that this 'wearable robot' will have many uses, such as in aiding rehabilitation training for senior patients and enhancing the work efficiency of soldiers or firemen,” Lee said. “In the long term, we envision this exosuit as hanging in a closet all the time, just like the clothes we wear every day."

Robotic Suit Newly developed robot suit made of fabric vest and wires will help people with restricted mobility to walk and run more efficiently. Chung-Ang University