Custom Tailoring Robotic Exoskeletons that Fit to Perfection

It wasn’t too long ago that the idea of a wearable robot that would lend its user increased mobility and strength seemed like the stuff of science fiction; indeed, films like Aliens and Iron Man, which featured characters wearing powered exoskeletons, incited the imaginations of many. Today, those exoskeletons actually exist and are available commercially, but they pose several problems. They take a long time to design and fabricate, for example, and the models, while costly to create, can be ill-fitting.

Joo H. Kim, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, is addressing those issues. The winner of a three-year National Robotics Initiative grant of almost one million dollars from the National Science Foundation, Kim is conducting research that has particular utility for those with disabilities affecting the lower limbs. Kim’s exoskeletons could also help military personnel and people in the construction industry who need to carry heavy loads over long distances. The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) is collaborating on fabricating and testing the new exoskeletons.

Kim, who leads the project, is establishing a user-centered design framework for powered lower-extremity exoskeletons, in which human-exoskeleton physical interactions and dynamics can be predicted and optimized. Based on an initial design that was developed by IHMC and NASA,  the research includes mathematical models of performance and stability control integrated into the design, resulting in accelerated development and better performing assistive devices at reduced cost.

“The end user‘s individual requirements were considered right from the very beginning — and will be at each consecutive stage of the process,” Kim explains.  “By providing highly customized design, a reduced design cycle, optimized systems with light weight and natural motion, and improved user comfort and safety, we are bringing exoskeleton technologies to the next level.”