What are wearable robots? Why would anyone want to wear a robot, anyway?
Is Louie wearing a wearable robot or is the robot wearing Louie?
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.
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.
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.
For this post, I’m sticking with wearable robots that don’t replace limbs.
EXOSKELETAL ROBOTS FOR LOCOMOTION
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?
When working closely with humans, safety is key!
We would never forget about pets!
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.
Enter...THE SOFT ROBOTIC GRIPPER
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?
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.
Back to soft wearable robots! Soft pneumatic actuators for soft robotic grippers.
And the last puzzle piece. Soft sensors.
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 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.
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!
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?