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Exoskeletons enhance body functions for a promising human-robotics shared future

Wearing an exoskeleton or power-assisted exosuit to strengthen human body functions may not be a fictional illusion anymore.

The exoskeleton products displayed at the 2022 World Robot Conference that took place from August 18 to 21 in Beijing have made improved athletic ability a reality, especially for paralyzed patients.

Exoskeleton means an external skeleton that supports and protects the human body. The exoskeleton products developed by Beihang University are designed to provide assistance for paraplegic patients in rehabilitation recovery.

Researchers have used Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithm to design the wearable device that work in tandem with the user, equipping exoskeleton with sensors to predict the user's movement intention.

"The exoskeleton robots can perceive the subjective intentions of people. In walking, for example, the exoskeleton robots can sense how fast or slow a person walks, then the device can adapt to the human behaviors in a compatible way," said Shuai Mei, director of the exoskeleton laboratory of Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Biomedical Engineering and researcher of the School of Biological Science and Medical Engineering, Beihang University.

"After detecting the surrounding environment, the skeleton can assist the user in movements such as going up and down stairs," added Shuai, who is also a leading designer of a new generation of exoskeletons with a robot company based in Beijing.

"The exoskeleton robot can enhance the residual strength of the muscles and activate the potential of paralyzed patients," Shuai said. "The research was based on extensive contact with patients, data collection and clinical trials. The pace of the exoskeleton can be precisely controlled."

The "made-in-China" exoskeleton debuted in the torch relay during the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games.

Shao Haipeng, wearing the exoskeleton product, was one of the nine torchbearers at the Temple of Heaven on March 2, 2022.

Shao injured his spinal cord from a falling accident in 2017 and could not stand or walk since then.

Along with a partner named Li Tao, Shao completed a marathon with the help of an exoskeleton.

Covering a distance of 42.2km, their 11-day journey started from the Kezilesu Kirghiz autonomous prefecture of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and ended in the city of Nanjing in east China's Jiangsu Province on November 25, 2018.

Another torchbearer Yang Shuting joined the torch relay on March 4.

Yang was paraplegic after suffering a car accident in 2011. After five months of adaptation training, she was able to "stand and walk" with the help of a lower limb-assisted exoskeleton device. 

The wearable exoskeleton does not only benefit paralyzed patients, but also support abled people in lifting heavy object.

The Atoun Model Y developed by Panasonic is a wearable assist suit that could "output about 20 pounds of force to help workers with physically demanding or repetitive jobs and tasks," Bloomberg reports.

Deployed in airports and at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic venues, the suits helped workers transfer and load gear.

With the development of AI interaction, the exoskeleton products are destined to extend humans' physical abilities, mapping out a promising lifestyle with a shared future for robots and humans.

Source: Exoskeletons enhance human body functions - CGTN (18.10.2022)

Tom Illauer

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