What happens when an MIT professor loses his legs to frostbite? He creates a set of prosthetic climbing legs that would make our analog limbs look like chopped liver. Now after developing revolutionary ankles and knees, professor Herr is working on a new type of lower body exoskeleton.
From New Scientist Tech:
If you have ever wondered why we are not all running round in robotic exoskeletons that massively increase our strength and endurance, Hugh Herr, director of the biomechatronics group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media lab, US, will happily tell you.
The problem, he and his colleagues point out in the group’s latest patent application, is that exoskeletons are just too heavy, and offer very limited increases in strength. In fact, were current designs ever they to fail, they could seriously hurt the wearer, they say.
Now, however, Herr’s team has hit on a better way to design these systems. It involves analysing the detailed motion of the human body, and building the exoskeleton so that it exactly mimics human movement and acts in parallel to it.
The team have two designs that embody this philosophy. One transfers the weight of a backpack to an exoskeleton, which may be useful for the military or emergency services. The other transfers the weight of the wearer to the exoskeleton which could be useful for the disabled and elderly. Aliens character Ripley’s robotic loader could be here sooner than you think.
From the Patent application:
An exoskeleton worn by a human user consisting of a rigid pelvic harness worn about the waist of the user and exoskeleton leg structures each of which extends downwardly alongside one of the human user’s legs. The leg structures include hip, knee and ankle joints connected by adjustable length thigh and shin members. The hip joint that attaches the thigh structure to the pelvic harness includes a passive spring or an active actuator to assist in lifting the exoskeleton and said human user with respect to the ground surface upon which the user is walking and to propel the exoskeleton and human user forward. A controllable damper operatively arresting the movement of the knee joint at controllable times during the walking cycle, and spring located at the ankle and foot member stores and releases energy during walking.