Guest Post – Exoskeleton Allowing The Paralyzed To Walk

Technology is really doing amazing things. Being confined to a wheel chair for your entire life is something many of us have difficulty even imagining. Small things most of us take for granted like the ability to make eye contact without looking upward is something that up until now just wasn’t possible for those paralyzed. A company called Berkeley Bionics is working to change all of that with the first “practical” exoskeleton.

Berkeley Bionics’s Elegs

The elegs by Berkeley Bionics are a relatively lightweight and portable exoskeleton system that allows those paralyzed from the waist downs to walk again. The elegs are based on HULC technology, which was developed by the US military to allow lifting things heavier than 200 pounds. The person operating the elegs first has their lower body securely snapped into the exoskeleton. A series of complex sensors in the elegs then help the user move one leg forward and evenly distribute their weight. The elegs users hands, meanwhile, use crutches to ensure balance when switching legs. While the system is being developed so anyone can use it, right now it works best with those who were recently paralyzed. If the person was recently paralyzed then they still have walking in muscle memory, and this helps immensely when using the elegs to walk.

Where The Elegs Are Now And Where They Are Going In the Future

As of right now the elegs are still in the closed testing phase. This means that while the technology is functional now, the total cost and difficult of use makes it impractical for the consumer market. Berkeley Bionics has already hinted at the next version of the elegs currently in development. According to Berkeley Bionics, the next generation of the elegs is designed form the ground up for real world use. The example they gave was being able to put on the elegs in the morning and perform tasks like driving and hiking without ever having to re-adjust the exoskelton. Seeing the amazing strides made with current technology, it’s likely that a viable option to allow those paralyzed to walk again will be available for purchase within 10 years.

Bio: Tracy Sitchen is a veteran coupon clipper, stay at home Mom, and aspiring writer. While she loves shopping, she loves the chase of the deal even more! She’s recently been writing about Houston Aquarium coupons along with Old Spaghetti Factory coupons over at her blog where she shares deals and discounts to help every day people save money.

So you wanna get an Iron Man Suit for yourself … Huh?

After my previous post about the Iron Man 2 release with stills, I had promised that I will write about how you can get one yourself. Well first things first, there is nothing called an Iron Man suit out there. The closest you can get to an Iron Man Suit however is an Exoskeleton. Sounds interesting doesn’t it ? First of all the exoskeleton is something of a fantasy that a lot of people have written about or made into movies, from James Cameroon’s Avatar where the AMP’s roam around with a man inside them or the movie of discussion Iron Man, other movies like Starship troopers, Robocop etc games like Halo, Crysis etc. It has always been the attempt of engineers and scientists to be able to develop armor that would protect the wearer as well as include weapons in case it was required. Technologies till date have not been miniature enough to be able to work on a solution like this. Scientists have not stopped trying and their efforts are slowly bearing fruit.

Basically, an exoskeleton is a wearable machine that gives a human enhanced abilities. Imagine a battalion of super soldiers that can lift hundreds of pounds as easily as lifting 10 pounds and can run twice their normal speed. The potential of non-military applications is also phenomenal. In 2000, DARPA requested proposals for human performance augmentation systems, and will soon be signing contracts to begin developing exoskeletons. The military agency said that the testing of this new technology is at least a decade away. It will be much longer before soldiers are donning these body amplification systems for battle. The exoskeleton is not made by just one organization at the moment, it is being developed my many people worldwide from Japan to the United States all having their own interpretation and implementation of the exoskeleton. Guess this is a good time to look at some of these exoskeletons that are available in the world.

Robot Suit (HAL)

First lets travel to Japan to the factory of Cyberdyne Industries (which film buffs will recognize as the name of the company that built the ill-fated “Skynet” in the Terminator movies ) home to the Robot Suit HAL (Human Assistive Limb); which is a cyborg-type robot that can expand and improve physical capability.

When a person attempts to move, nerve signals are sent from the brain to the muscles via motoneuron, moving the musculoskeletal system as a consequence. At this moment, very weak biosignals can be detected on the surface of the skin. “HAL” catches these signals through a sensor attached on the skin of the wearer. Based on the signals obtained, the power unit is controlled to move the joint unitedly with the wearer’s muscle movement, enabling to support the wearer’s daily activities. This is what we call a ‘voluntary control system’ that provides movement interpreting the wearer’s intention from the biosignals in advance of the actual movement. Not only a ‘voluntary control system’ “HAL” has, but also a ‘robotic autonomous control system’ that provides human-like movement based on a robotic system which integrally work together with the ‘autonomous control system’. “HAL” is the world’s first cyborg-type robot controlled by this unique Hybrid System.

The HAL exoskeleton is currently only available in Japan, but the company says it has plans to eventually offer it in the European Union as well. The company will rent (no option to buy at this time) the suits for about $1,300 per month (including maintenance and upgrades), according to the company’s site.

The Sarcos XOS

The XOS, is the latest and arguably most advanced exoskeleton in existence, developed by one-man idea factory Steve Jacobsen and the engineers at Sarcos, a robotics company he started in 1983 that was recently purchased by the defense giant Raytheon. Sounds familiar to Iron Man ? The film follows a prolific inventor named Tony Stark who builds a robotic suit of armor that grants him fantastical abilities. The Sarcos XOS exoskeleton is made of a combination of sensors, actuators and controllers, and can help the wearer lift 200 pounds several hundred times without tiring, the company said Wednesday in a press release. The company also claims the suit is agile enough to play soccer and climb stairs and ramps.

The major challenge has been engineering a power source that will power the robot from four to 24 hours. Right now the Exoskeleton can’t operate that long without being plugged into some external power source, but the engineers are working on making it completely self sustaining.

The HULC from Lockheed Martin

The HULC Human Universal Load Carrier exoskeleton from Lockheed Martin is designed to augment the strength and endurance of soldiers; it transfers the load to the ground using powered titanium legs. The HULC is a completely un-tethered, hydraulic-powered anthropomorphic exoskeleton that provides users with the ability to carry loads of up to 200 lbs for extended periods of time and over all terrains. Its flexible design allows for deep squats, crawls and upper-body lifting. There is no joystick or other control mechanism. The exoskeleton senses what users want to do and where they want to go. It augments their ability, strength and endurance. An onboard micro-computer ensures the exoskeleton moves in concert with the individual. Its modularity allows for major components to be swapped out in the field. Additionally, its unique power-saving design allows the user to operate on battery power for extended missions. The HULC’s load-carrying ability works even when power is not available.

Based on the Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton (BLEEX), a DARPA robotics engineering project that is designed to help foot soldiers carry more supplies for longer distances this is an upgrade of sorts. The user straps the exoskeleton legs onto his own, and puts on a backpack with an engine, control system and space for materiel. The robotic device could also assist other professionals, like firemen carrying heavy equipment. The HULC powered suit runs on li-ion batteries at present. Though it allows a soldier to march easily with a load of 200lb, it normally runs flat after just a few hours – significantly less if any jogging or running is done. But Lockheed believe that a fuel cell powered version could go for days on one fill of juice. Even better, it would offer power sockets for all the wearer’s other electronics, meaning that spare – or even, perhaps, primary – batteries could be left behind. Lockheed Martin have said that fuel-cell firm Protonex will “develop power supply concepts that will enable the HULC™ robotic exoskeleton to support 72+-hour extended missions.

Honda Experimental Walking Assist Device

Back to Japan again to look at the Experimental walking assist device (no real fancy name here). The Honda Experimental Walking Assist Device is a robot exoskeleton for the legs, designed to reduce the strain of walking for the elderly and those with mobility problems. Essentially a chair with legs, the Honda exoskeleton allows users to sit down in a saddle-like seat and strap their feet into two shoes attached to artificial limbs. The seat supports a portion of the wearer’s body weight, reducing the strain to joints in the knees, ankles and hips.

The exoskeleton, which comes in small, medium and large sizes, weighs about 14.3 pounds (6.5 kilograms). The user secures it with a belt around the hip and thigh, then straps into a pair of shoes connected to it. A seat fits between the wearer’s legs like a mini saddle. The device is powered by a lithium ion battery that lasts about two hours between charges, as long as the wearer isn’t walking faster than 2.8 miles per hour (4.5 kilometers per hour).

The company used the same approach to develop the walking assist device as it did to create the gait of its ASIMO humanoid robot—which walks in a bit of a crouch, as if trying to avoid hitting its head against something.

MIT Exoskeleton

Designed to use less power and weigh less than similar robotic devices, the exoskeleton developed in Cambridge, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is another wearable robot for the lower body. The purpose of the exoskeleton is to help people with heavy loads to carry on their backs (hikers, soldiers, students with too many physics textbooks) lighten the load.

Unlike other robotic exoskeletons, which can require up to 3,000 watts to power, the MIT exoskeleton only requires one watt. However, the device does interfere with the wearer’s normal walking motion, which causes the user to expend more oxygen than he or she would without the device.

The person wearing the M.I.T. exoskeleton places his or her feet in boots attached to a series of tubes that run up the leg to a backpack. The exoskeleton, powered by a 48-volt battery pack, uses an onboard computer, weighs 11.7 kilograms (about 26 pounds) and requires two watts of electrical power during loaded walking. The device fits parallel to the legs, transferring payload forces from the back of the wearer to the ground. The exoskeleton system includes elastic energy storage elements at the hip and ankle, and a variable-damping mechanism at the knee.

Not today really but tomorrow for sure

Iron Man has been thriving in comics for more than four decades, but this is Hollywood’s first go at the story. And the timing couldn’t be better. Not only is Iron Man—a hero born of pure engineering—the perfect idol for our gadget-obsessed era, but for the first time since the character appeared, the suit is more than just an illustrated dream. Although these amazing inventions are just leading the way towards a full blown suit, if you however want make one immediately, you can make a papercraft Iron Man Suit, like it is shown here.

All reference sources from wikepedia here.