Researchers from Aalborg University are involved in an international project to develop portable robot skeletons for the elderly so they can continue to be active longer. Think of it as a tool, not as a robot, says researcher.
The world’s population is aging. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2050 there will be more than two billion people over age 60. And the older we get, the weaker our bodies become. So an international team of researchers and companies are working to develop an exoskeleton for senior citizens so they can remain active for longer.
“Many older people are mentally fit and want to continue to be active, but their physical abilities are steadily deteriorating,” explains Shaoping Bai, Associate Professor at the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Aalborg University. This is an attempt to complement the strengths of older people so they can continue to be mobile and live independently for a longer time
Scientists working at Korea University, Korea, and TU Berlin, Germany have developed a brain-computer control interface for a lower limb exoskeleton by decoding specific signals from within the user’s brain.
Using an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap, the system allows users to move forwards, turn left and right, sit and stand simply by staring at one of five flickering light emitting diodes (LEDs).
The results are published today (Tuesday 18th August) in the Journal of Neural Engineering.
Each of the five LEDs flickers at a different frequency, and when the user focusses their attention on a specific LED this frequency is reflected within the EEG readout. This signal is identified and used to control the exoskeleton.
A key problem has been separating these precise brain signals from those associated with other brain activity, and the highly artificial signals generated by the exoskeleton.
“Exoskeletons create lots of electrical ‘noise’” explains Klaus Muller, an author on the paper. “The EEG signal gets buried under all this noise – but our system is able to separate not only the EEG signal, but the frequency of the flickering LED within this signal.”
Although the paper reports tests on healthy individuals, the system has the potential to aid sick or disabled people.
“People with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) [motor neuron disease], or high spinal cord injuries face difficulties communicating or using their limbs” continues Muller. “Decoding what they intend from their brain signals could offer means to communicate and walk again.”
The control system could serve as a technically simple and feasible add-on to other devices, with EEG caps and hardware now emerging on the consumer market.
Designed specifically for tasks that require heavy lifting, such as commerce or nursing
Researchers from the Tokyo University of Science in Japan are now developing a light exoskeleton concept that can carry items as heavy as 40 kilograms with little to no difficulty. Created by professor Hiroshi Kobayashiand his team of experts, the exoskeleton is affixed to the hips and shoulders by straps and a padded waistband, while its A-shaped frame is equipped with four pneumatic artificial muscles (lightweight rubber blades encased in mesh) that contract when pressurized air is pumped in and can exert up to 30 kilograms of instant support for extra strenuous tasks. The frame is specially designed to augment the functions of the arms and back specifically in tasks that require heavy lifting, such as commerce or nursing.