For the first time ever, a boot-like exoskeleton designed to help the wearer walk and run faster and effortlessly is exiting the lab into the real world.
SteveCollins, who heads the Stanford University Biomechatronics Laboratory, is thrilled: “Our device brings tremendous improvements in walking speed.
With his colleagues, Collins published a study in the journal Nature, I link it here.
How the robot boot works
The Stanford-developed exoskeleton works with the calf muscles to give the wearer an extra boost with every step. But unlike other exoskeletons, the thrust is personalized. An AI trained with huge data sets "learns" walking and adapts its work optimally.
This feature allows the boot to consume half the energy compared to its predecessors. The ultimate goal is to help people with mobility difficulties, especially the elderly, to move everywhere without problems: and these improvements make commercialization ever closer.
"The very first few moments with an exoskeleton can be a little tricky," he says Ava Lakmazaheri, student of the Biomechatronics Laboratory who tested the exoskeleton.
It only takes 15 minutes, though, and everything feels natural. You literally have the feeling of having something extra. Like the boots of the seven leagues from the famous fable.
If after 15 minutes the walk becomes smoother (the robot boot enhances the calf functions), "the magic" happens within an hour. Suddenly it feels, the researchers say, as if "a 30-kilo backpack was removed from our shoulders" (don't ask me what that means).
What happened: By measuring movement through sensors contained in the robot boots, the machine learning model determines how to best assist the person.
Results? Optimized assistance allowed people to walk 9% faster with 17% less energy compared to walking in normal boots. "It's the biggest increase ever from an exoskeleton," Collins says.
The next step for this contraption is to see what it can do for older adults and people with partial disabilities. Researchers also envision variants to improve balance and joint pain.
They have been perfecting these things in laboratories all over the world for 20 years, they weren't born yesterday. I think we are, though. Over the next 10 years, exoskeletons will be a widespread product.