Exoskeletons are rigid jointed structures worn by a person. They can actively generate torques to enhance the strength of the wearer. Active exoskeletons can be used as an assistive device as well as for therapy of various groups of patients including stroke survivors, children with cerebral palsy, and spinal cord injury patients. However, these devices are typically bulky, heavy, and uncomfortable and therefore not widely used in daily life. The aim of this project is to move beyond exoskeletons and develop an autonomous, lightweight, unobtrusive and comfortable flexible robotic suit that enables patients with a complete SCI to walk in everyday situations with minimal use of crutches.
A significant factor contributing to comfort is how well the flexible robotic suit can move with its wearer. The ultimate example of comfort in human wearables is clothing, which so naturally follows the movements of its wearer that it is unnoticeable. Hence, one of our research directions focuses on developing an active, completely soft garment. It comfortably provides the knee extension torques required to stand without the need for a separate assistive device. Torques are generated by an inflatable composite fabric embedded into pants. The inFlashion stand up pants aim to improve the independence of the elderly, who often are able to walk, but need a caregiver or additional assistive technology to enable them to stand due to the large torques required, particularly at the knee. It is these soft and flexible technologies developed in the flexible robotic suit project that will ensure the comfort of future robotic wearable suits; an essential step to their home use in the lives of patients.