Have you ever dreamed of having the superhuman reflexes of a superhero? And why exactly Iron Man comes to mind? Either way, science is working on it. The scientists of Georgia Tech ed Emory have just published the results of a study (I link it here) on how exoskeletons for lower limbs can improve balance in humans.
The goal is to understand whether these robotic devices can help people keep their balance if they fall. For this reason, scientists have created special robotic boots (I told you: Iron Man) which provide, indeed: which for now simulate an equilibrium cue even faster than the natural human response.
Faster than mind
To test the potential capabilities of these "exo boots," the researchers used a motorized floor to "snatch the dirt from under the feet" of young study participants.
To avoid ending up on their faces, the volunteers had to balance, but sometimes the slip was such that they were forced to take a step to avoid falling. You know those bus stops when you're not holding on to anything? Here you are.
Then the "magic" boots arrived, the volunteers wore them and the researchers changed the "setting" of the motorized treadmill and compared the results.
How are they faster?
Using ultrasound, the scientists "saw" under the skin how calf muscles stretch during motorized floor movement. Muscle stretching generates critical sensory signals needed by the nervous system to initiate an equilibrium reaction. The human nervous system takes time to send signals to muscles, but robots can act much faster by using wires instead of nerves to send signals.
Robot boots: better with or without?
The researchers found that a mode that outstripped human reaction helped users regain balance faster and prevented them from taking a step to recover.
Before calling Tony Stark, I have the duty to tell you that, of course, research is literally taking its first steps. The study shows that exoskeletons can improve balance in a controlled laboratory environment, and for a simple standing task assigned to young people with no balance problems.
There is still a lot of progress to be made to make these robotic boots suitable for everyday life, for example, for elderly people with balance problems.
Of course, the road is promising: these studies will make it possible to achieve exoskeletons total or by areas (I'm thinking of the knee and hip) able to anticipate the risk of falling and allow a balance... Superhuman!