Wearable Robots

What are wearable robots? Why would anyone want to wear a robot, anyway?

WEARABLE ROBOTS

Is Louie wearing a wearable robot or is the robot wearing Louie?

What Are Wearable Robots?--Louie
I CAN OPEN THE FRIDGE WITH THESE HANDS!

A wearable robot is a system that combines electrics & mechanical engineering and is designed around the shape and function of the human body.

That's pretty vague

Let's investigate further !

Human beings have always pursued the dream of enhancing human capabilities through the usage of wearable devices. Or just plain old enhancement.

While I agree with the idea that we should never meet our heroes, how about real live tech meeting science fiction?

I’m all in.

Science of Fear_Halloween costumes boys
Heroes? Maybe not but I wanted to use this pic!
What is the point of wearable robots?
Wearable robots support impaired limbs, supplement human ability, or help with the rehabilitation of patients with neuromuscular impairments.
For individuals with disabilities, these technologies are key, as they enable increased functionality, mobility, & independence.
Most of us value our independence!
I want to be able to open the fridge
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I think of ‘robots’ as actual robots, but according to mechatronics, that isn’t quite right.

Mechatronics is a branch of engineering that focuses on designing, manufacturing, and maintaining products that have both mechanical and electronic components.

So wearable robots have nothing to do with actual fictional robots, like The Iron Giant.

Don't be so serious_Sue Berk Koch_Join us and Make Sense of Science
WE LOVE THE IRON GIANT

EXOSKELETAL VERSUS PROSTHETICS

Since the term ‘wearable robots’ is a little strange, let’s clarify a few more terms. Such as exoskeletal robots versus prosthetic robots.

what are wearable robots
Terms! Sure thing.

Exoskeletal robots are robotic structures that can be put on existing limbs.Soft Robotic Gripper_Harvard

Prosthetic robots are wearable robots that substitute a missing human limb.prosthetic limbs

For this post, I’m sticking with wearable robots that don’t replace limbs.

EXOSKELETAL ROBOTS FOR LOCOMOTION

Exoskeletal robots can supplement the user’s biological joint power with mechanical power from the device.
These wearable robots have the potential to restore healthy walking mechanics in individuals with mobility challenges.
Click Here
They potentially can augment the performance of able-bodied individuals by enabling them to walk farther, run faster, or carry heavier loads.
For example: Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC)
This exoskeleton being developed by Lockheed Martin for soldiers.
HULC info
The HULC enables soldiers to carry loads up to 91kg
Army HULC research
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Current wearable robotic technology is heavy because of motors, transmission materials, and control hardware.

Efficiency suffers unless you’re strong and fit.

Powered exoskeletal robots often provide biologically appropriate levels of mechanical power, but the size and mass of their power source designs often lead to heavy and unwieldy devices.

Why not use soft but strong materials?

Wearable Robots_Kev
My hair is strong, has size but no mass!

SOFT ROBOTICS

SOFT ROBOTICS

is a subfield of robotics that concerns the design, control, & fabrication of robots composed of compliant materials, instead of rigid links.

When working closely with humans, safety is key!

Save the forests science blog
Don't forget working w/ pets!

We would never forget about pets!

ozzie
Baby Ozzie!
Soft robotics is a rapidly emerging subfield due to their inherent safety, less complex designs, and increased potential for portability & efficacy.
Wearable robots are undergoing an amazing transformation, from the rigid machines that populated the science-fiction world in the 80’s to lighter weight versions.
SOFT ROBOTICS
In less than a decade of development, soft robotics has achieved important results in human motor assistance & reinforcement.
Soft Robotics
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Soft robots are primarily composed of easily deformable matter such as fluids, gels, and elastomers.

Rubber and silicone are examples of elastomers.

How about one of our most important extremities? Our hands. Not that I don’t consider feet important, but for quality-of-life issues, our hands are right up there.

Dirty hands

Worldwide, over 50 million people suffer from persistent hand impairments after stroke or spinal cord injury

This results in major loss of independence and quality of life.

Enter...THE SOFT ROBOTIC GRIPPER

Soft robotic grippers
courtesy Harvard Med
People with full function of their hands take small tasks for granted, from zipping a jacket to opening and drinking from a bottle, brushing teeth, or eating with cutlery, even holding a book or a mobile phone.
Taking this pic would have been tough w limited hand funtion
Soft robotic grippers have gained much attention in recent years owing to their advantages of easy fabrication, flexibility, & adaptability.
Soft robotic grippers
In clinical trials, soft robotic gloves have shown to assist hand function in individuals who have suffered upper limb paralysis following a spinal cord injury.
Limb paralysis & grippers
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Many researchers are hard at work to make the soft robotic gripper grippier!

At facilities like the Rehabilitation Engineering Laboratory, Department of Health Sciences and Technology in Zurich, studies show promise for a safe, wearable robot developed for children and adolescents with minimal hand function.

So how do these wearable robots work?

Science Experiments with food coloring _two screens
TELL US!

EXOSUIT FUNCTION

Exosuits (soft exoskeletal robots) actively transmit power to the human body either using cables, moved by electric motors, or soft pneumatic actuators, embedded in the garment.

Soft, pneumatic actuators might not be a phrase that comes up in daily conversations!
The devices use compressed air to power motion
They’re often made of soft (says captain obvious) silicone elastomers.
They've proven to be a critical backbone in a variety of applications such as assistive wearables, robotics, & rehabilitative technologies from elbow & shoulder movements to grasping.
Pneumatic actuators
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Strangely, soft, wearable robots don’t incorporate the same type of mechanics that humans and other mammals do.

We move our limbs by synchronizing opposing muscles. 

There is an animal that does not use opposing muscles for movement.

SPIDERS!

NECROBOTS

Necrobot
Spiders move via hydraulics
Hydraulics
Hydraulics can be thought of as a liquid counterpart of pneumatics.
Pneumatics use gases to power motion.
Spiders' legs can grasp large, delicate, and irregularly shaped objects firmly and smoothly, without breaking them.
Researchers at Rice University experimented and found that they could manipulate dead spiders’ legs with a puff of air --aka pneumatics, to serve as grabbers.
Rice Necrobot Research
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NECROBOT
NECROBOT

I can’t see wearing spiders as exoskeletal robots but the Rice University study dubs the device a necrobot.

If you want to learn more about spiders, here’s a post about tarantulas!

Wearable Robotics_Alex
I can't see wearing a spider, either.

Back to soft wearable robots! Soft pneumatic actuators for soft robotic grippers.

And the last puzzle piece. Soft sensors.

Make Sense of Science_Ian
Puzzles are fun!

SOFT SENSORS

With all this soft talk, of course we need soft sensors to go with our soft wearable robots!
And a soft dessert to eat with our wearable robots.
One emerging research area is soft sensors, which, in the context of soft material robotics, aim to minimally impede an actuator's range of motion while still providing sensory feedback.
Soft sensors are required to accommodate the flexible & deformable natures of the human body in wearable device applications.
Soft Wearable Grasping Assistance
Soft sensors are required to accommodate the flexible & deformable natures of the human body in wearable device applications. Soft sensors are also suitable for integration with soft wearable robotic devices to monitor performance status in PT.
Unfortunately, choices for bending sensors are still limited.
Researchers are on it though!
Soft bending sensors
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Soft sensor materials for exoskeletal robotics & machine learning (click for more about artificial intelligence and the future of humans!) combine to enable a soft sensor that distinguishes bending, stretching, and compression, to try to create the best wearable robot possible.

Wearable Robots_Louie
AI is cool!

ROBOTIC HEARTS

These soft wearable robots aren’t just for our joints and hands.

Research is working towards an implantable soft robotic device to augment cardiac function in isolated left or right heart failure.
A brief history of artificial intelligence_Tin Man
ROBOTIC HEARTS FOR REAL!

WEARABLE ROBOTS

Wearable robots aren’t just for patients. Wearable robots have applications in research, PT, and OT.

Using wearable robotics in conjunction with MRI makes it possible to study brain activities, motor performances during hand rehabilitation, & to unravel the functional effects of rehabilitation robotics on brain stimulation.(For more on how to keep your brain sharp, read my post here!)

Advances in materials science, electronics, AI, & energy storage have since enabled an exponential growth and development of wearable robots. I’m excited that someday soon these wearable robots will become more mainstream.

Make Sense of Science Dress Alike_Kev
WE'RE EXCITED TOO! ALSO, OUR SHIRTS MATCH!

Soft wearable robots are lightweight, ergonomic, & low power demanding. And with  soft sensors, are more comfortable for patients.

This makes exoskeletal robotics attractive for a variety of applications, ranging from strength augmentation in industrial or field scenarios, to medical assistance for people with motor impairments. 

Keep your eye on this amazing new tech! Wearable robots with soft robotic grippers and soft sensors. Hurrah!

No need to beg. Subscribe to Make Sense of Science Louie
AND CARROTS! KEEP YOUR EYE ON THOSE.
Wearable Robots _ Gelato
???

One question b4 you go. What will you eat when you don your wearable robot with its  soft robotic grippers? Not carrots. (sorry Louie)

Obviously, it needs to be a soft dessert.

Gelato? Or ice cream?

BE IT GELATO OR ICE CREAM, DON'T MISS OUT ON NEW SCIENCE ADVANCES

KIDDING ASIDE, PLEASE SUBSCRIBE!

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Fransic verso
August 28, 2022 5:53 am

I think it’s different from actual robots and wearable robots. Because I would love to try wearable robots. This is an interesting read!

Alyssa
Alyssa
August 28, 2022 6:04 am

This is so intriguing! I hope they can streamline these wearable robots to help kids and adults alike. Thanks for sharing this cool information. And I vote for gelato!

Lauren
Lauren
August 28, 2022 6:12 am

I would pick ice cream. I didn’t know much about robots and the mechanics, so I found this information really interesting. Thank you for sharing.

Lauren x

Ami
Ami
August 28, 2022 6:53 am

Wow, this would be so great to help soldiers in the field to conserve energy. And for people who’ve lost strength for any number of reasons. Thanks for sharing this cool tech.

Benny
August 28, 2022 6:58 am

Thank you Susan for this post that really lit up my Sci-Fi heart. Although in many of the cases it’s hardly fiction anymore. There are so many great applications for wearable robots and they can change the life of many people. It’s great to read all the things that are in the pipeline.

Julian
Julian
August 28, 2022 7:57 am

This is so cool and sounds like it could be helpful to a lot of people. Thanks for sharing!

Jaya
August 28, 2022 11:11 am

This is a fascinating concept and one that could have some interesting benefits, especially for people who do not have complete motor function. It will be interesting to see where people are able to take and utilize the technology for sure!

Eva Apelqvist
Eva Apelqvist
August 28, 2022 11:53 am

This is amazing information. Maybe I don’t have to “save my knees.” Eventually, I’ll just put on my suit and go about my day. And my frozen thumb? No problem.
Thank you so much for another excellent science article.

Unwanted Life
August 28, 2022 1:55 pm

I saw the article about the necrobots. Not a fan of spiders, but this just seems creepy. I’m also not sure what the applications might be for this. But I am looking forward to wearing a powersuit

Mike
Mike
August 28, 2022 2:42 pm

Really enjoyed the information about spiders. Always learn something from your post. Definitely gelato especially that purple mass on top of the other ones looks like a brain. Keep it up. Mike

Charity
Charity
August 28, 2022 2:46 pm

Oh wow. This was so interesting to read! I haven’t heard much about wearable robots before!

Molly | Transatlantic Notes
Molly | Transatlantic Notes
August 29, 2022 7:15 am

It is incredible to see how technology has evolved in my lifetime; there are advances happening right now I cannot imagine or envision so it’s fascinating to learn about the people/innovations that are taking these strides. Zombie spider bot is not my favourite idea but I am sure the tech used on the spider can be applied in other ways in other instances that are less creepy, haha!

Jodie
Jodie
August 29, 2022 7:50 am

Wonderful piece! I love that this technology is available to those as prosthetics with or without their actual arms in addition to aiding those with limited use. Some of my favourite use of technology.

Mummy Conquering Anxiety
Mummy Conquering Anxiety
August 29, 2022 8:42 am

As always, such an interesting article. I’ve learned loads I didn’t already know. And I think these additions are great for anyone who need them.

Lo I
August 29, 2022 9:21 am

This is so wild! Tech has come so far + it’s only going to continue to explode! Such an informative piece!

Thrift Plan Enjoy
Thrift Plan Enjoy
August 29, 2022 6:25 pm

Loving the pictures and quotes throughout. The format of your posts always makes me want to keep reading.

Roaring Pumpkin
August 29, 2022 6:38 pm

It’s reassuring we have these aids in place should any of us need them. This is a great use of technology.

Alita
August 29, 2022 7:04 pm

I was intrigued by your post. I’ve never really thought about wearable robots but now I do. I love when wearable robotics technologies hold promise for improving the lives of people with disabilities.

Heidi
August 29, 2022 10:14 pm

Wow! This is so interesting. I have a couple of friends who are losing their grip strength. These wearable robots would be perfect for them. They seem a lot less cumbersome than prosthetics. Thank you for sharing!

Eileen
Eileen
September 4, 2022 10:07 am

What an amazing set of possibilities for people with all sorts of needs for strength/agility! I had never heard of the concept, but now it makes a lot of sense (due to your great research!). Thanks for the information!

TheQuietGirl (Anissa)
September 5, 2022 1:14 am

I would pick the ice cream! It’s so awesome to see how technology could be so helpful to those who have limited movement. Just the thought of wearable robots just sounds pretty cool. Really enjoyed reading this, thanks for sharing!

ellegracedeveson
ellegracedeveson
September 9, 2022 2:12 am

This is such a interesting post, I’ve never heard of wearable robots so this has opened my eyes a lot and educated me. Thank you so much for sharing this with us! What a crazy world we live in Xo

elle – ellegracedeveson.com

Raji
Raji
September 9, 2022 1:10 pm

This was such an interesting read! Thanks for sharing!

Susan Berk Koch author

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