NASA exoskeleton could help paraplegics walk again
NASA engineers have developed a robotic exoskeleton that could aid paraplegics here on Earth as well as astronauts in space.
Derived from NASA's Robonaut 2, the X1 Robotic Exoskeleton is a robot worn over the body to either assist or inhibit movement in the leg joints.
In the inhibit mode, the robotic device can be used as an in-space exercise machine to supply resistance against leg movement. The same technology can be used in reverse on the ground, however, potentially helping some individuals walk for the first time.
"Robotics is playing a key role aboard the International Space Station and will be critical in our future human exploration of deep space," said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Programme."What's extraordinary about space technology and our work with projects like Robonaut are the unexpected possibilities space tech spinoffs may have right here on Earth.
"It's exciting to see a NASA-developed technology might one day help people with serious ambulatory needs to begin to walk again, or even walk for the first time."
Worn over the legs with a harness that reaches up the back and around the shoulders, X1 has 10 degrees of freedom, or joints - four motorised joints at the hips and the knees, and six passive joints that allow for sidestepping, turning and pointing, and flexing a foot. There also are multiple adjustment points, allowing the X1 to be used in many different ways.
The device is currently in the research and development phase, where the primary focus is development, evaluation and improvement of the technology. NASA is also examining the potential for the X1 to measure, record and stream back in real time data to flight controllers on Earth, giving doctors better insight into the crew's exercise.
Here on Earth, there is interest in developing and using X1 as an assistive walking device. Using NASA technology and walking algorithms developed at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC), the X1 has the potential to produce high torques to allow for assisted walking over varied terrain, as well as stair climbing. Preliminary studies using X1 for this purpose have already started at IHMC.
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