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Witnessing a Wearables Transition

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Witnessing a Wearables Transition

Assistive robots must mimic human dynamics and move toward neural-interface control.

Science,

5 min read
4 take-aways
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What's inside?

A future with wearable robots that might restore and enhance movement in human patients.


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Whether the patient is someone who has suffered an injury during an accident, someone recovering from a stroke or an elderly person who has trouble getting around, wearable robot technology has great potential to overcome physical limitations. Past efforts involved bulky exoskeletons that were most suitable in a rehab setting, but the future will likely involve soft exosuits that seamlessly enhance the wearer’s natural movements. Northwestern Professor José L. Pons explains how advanced algorithms might decipher neural code, helping patients to run, not just walk, through recovery.

Summary

Current interfaces between the human nervous system and wearable robotics are far from seamless.

The goal of wearable robots is to enhance movement in healthy humans, act as prostheses for missing limbs or assist patients with neurological disorders affecting movement. Hard exosuits have been used in therapeutic settings to help patients walk, but the speed of these exosuits must be controlled manually.

Artificial joints can also become misaligned with the wearer’s joints, and rather than enhancing the wearer’s movements, the exoskeleton can make movement more difficult. Suits also add bulk and weight that impede natural movement.

Algorithms ...

About the Author

Jose L. Pons, PhD, is a professor in the department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Feinberg School of Medicine and in the departments of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University. He leads a team that restores lower-limb function for patients at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.


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