An EU funded project entitled Robo-Mate is developing a robotic body suit that increases the strength of the person wearing it. Scientists, engineers and many other experts from seven European countries are combining their knowledge and talents to bring this project to life.
From military to industry
Up until recently, the focus of development of robotic suits has been to enhance military efforts. The Robo-Mate team has different ideas. Its aim is to bring these exoskeletons to the workplace, to aid manual labour.
This dream became reality due to technology that has allowed the team to develop something lightweight enough for everyday use, while still delivering great power to its wearer. The frame attaches to the user’s limb or the torso, mimicking the joints of the wearer and allowing them to perform tasks beyond their own strength. Flexible motors or lighter weight springs power the suit.
Robo-Mate is also developing a ‘balance suit’ that will prevent the user from losing balance. The science behind this technology needs to be incredibly precise. The healthy brain is able to move the feet to exact locations to prevent the body from falling, and the suit learns to replicate this. The aim is that the wearer could receive a strong shove and the suit would automatically move their feet to regain stability and balance.
Helping the elderly
While this all seems high tech and futuristic, another EU-backed project, Axo-suits, is passionate about bringing such ideas closer to home in a more practical sense. The group is developing a suit to aid the elderly and infirm in simple tasks such as bending down and standing back up. As well as assisting the elderly, these suits would also aim to help those recovering from illness and accidents and those suffering from a walking disability.
Prototypes of these suits are being created, and patients are able to register for clinical trials, set to kick off later this year. The estimated retail value is currently around 10,000 Euros (£7250), although even a high price tag like this will hopefully reduce the costs usually associated with moving an elderly patient to a care home.
Additionally, hopes that the manufacturing of such appliances will give the frail and infirm, more independence and lengthen the time they are able to live at home.