The first smart exoskeleton that recognizes the loss of balance – and prevents falling – has been developed by researchers at Scuola Sant’Anna in Italy, EPFL in Switzerland, and tested at the Rehabilitation Center “Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi” in Florence.
Wearable machines that enhance your movement and endurance no longer belong to the realm of science fiction. They are being developed today in the laboratory, and in this controlled setting, already prevent the elderly from falling.
Scientists at Scuola Sant’Anna in Italy and EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) in Switzerland have built a prototype of a smart, light-weight and easy-to-personalize exoskeleton that counteracts the loss of balance and promotes balance recovery after an accidental slip. This is a first in wearable machines, which are normally used to assist or enhance regular movement, instead of preventing an unexpected event like falling. The results are published on May 11th in Scientific Reports.
The exoskeleton was designed to help the elderly by preventing fall-related injuries, since seniors are involved in 40% of fatal injuries related to falling in Europe. But the exoskeleton could also be used as an aid for the physically impaired, amputees and those suffering from neurological disorders. It’s technology that will actually help people with their daily activities.
The exoskeleton is wearable from the waist down, and is vastly different from the armored stuff you see in today’s science fiction movies.
“Our smart exoskeleton is light-weight and extremely easy to personalize,” says Silvestro Micera, professor at EPFL and Scuola Sant’Anna and holds the Bertarelli Foundation Chair in Translational Neuroengineering. For this first prototype, the exoskeleton requires only a few minutes to adapt to a given patient, which involves adjusting the size for a particular user and learning the user’s gait.