Exoskeletons with personalize-your-own settings

March 30, 2022
Leo Medrano, a PhD student in the Neurobionics Lab at the University of Michigan, tests out an ankle exoskeleton on a two-track treadmill. Researchers were able to give the exoskeleton user direct control to tune its behavior, allowing them to find the right torque and timing settings for themselves.

To transform human mobility, exoskeletons need to interact seamlessly with their user, providing the right level of assistance at the right time to cooperate with our muscles as we move. 

To help achieve this, University of Michigan researchers gave users direct control to customize the behavior of an ankle exoskeleton.

Not only was the process faster than the conventional approach, in which an expert would decide the settings, but it may have incorporated preferences an expert would have missed. For instance, user height and weight, which are commonly used metrics for tuning exoskeletons and robotic prostheses, had no effect on preferred settings.

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$1M for open-source first-responder robots

September 16, 2021
A mini-cheetah out on the Robot Garden at the Ford Motor Company Robotics Building. Photo: Levi Hutmacher.

Tomorrow’s wildfire fighters and other first responders may tag-team with robotic assistants that can hike through wilderness areas and disaster zones, thanks to a University of Michigan research project funded by a new $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation. 

A key goal of the three-year project is to enable robots to navigate in real time, without the need for a preexisting map of the terrain they’re to traverse.

The project aims to take bipedal (or two-legged) walking robots to a new level, equipping them to adapt on the fly to treacherous ground, dodge obstacles or decide whether a given area is safe for walking. The technology could enable robots to go into areas that are too dangerous for humans, including collapsed buildings and other disaster areas. It could also lead to prosthetics that are more intuitive for their users.

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Taking an exoskeleton from ‘ready, set’ to go

March 5, 2021
Animation of an exoskeleton moving from sitting to standing.
A virtual model of the Wandercraft Atlante exoskeleton moving from sitting to standing position. Courtesy paper.

An exoskeleton user can now go from sitting to standing safely and without assistance based on the work of University of Michigan researchers, who developed a new approach to create and test solutions to such problems virtually.

“We now have a way to systematically design control objectives for highly constrained systems such that the objectives are not in conflict with the contact constraints,” said Eva Mungai, a PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering. 

The paper, “Feedback Control Design for Robust Comfortable Sit-to-Stand Motions of 3D Lower-Limb Exoskeletons,” is published in IEEE Access.

Similar research on the sit-to-stand activity is often done with a simplified model due to the complexity that three dimensions introduces. That work focuses on the sagittal plane, the X-axis of the sit-to-stand problem, while Mungai’s work incorporates sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes, or X, Y, and Z-axes.

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A more comfortable robotic prosthetic leg

July 15, 2020

A new robotic prosthetic leg prototype offers a more natural gait while also being quieter and more energy efficient than other designs. 

The key is the use of new small and powerful motors, originally designed for a robotic arm on the International Space Station. The streamlined design offers a free-swinging knee and regenerative braking, which charges the battery with energy captured when the foot hits the ground. This feature enables the leg to more than double a typical prosthetic user’s walking needs with one charge per day.

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Open-source bionic leg: First-of-its-kind platform aims to rapidly advance prosthetics

June 5, 2019

A new open-source, artificially intelligent prosthetic leg designed by researchers at the University of Michigan and Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is now available to the scientific community.

The leg’s free-to-copy design and programming are intended to improve the quality of life of patients and accelerate scientific advances by offering a unified platform to fragmented research efforts across the field of bionics.

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