Biomedical Engineering Online
Background: Powered robotic exoskeletons for assistance of human locomotion are currently
under development for military and medical applications. The energy requirements for such devices are excessive, and this has become a major obstacle for practical applications. Legged locomotion in many animals, however, is very energy efficient. We propose that poly-articular elastic mechanisms are a major contributor to the economy of locomotion in such specialized animals. Consequently, it should be possible to design unpowered assistive devices that make effective use of similar mechanisms.
Methods: A passive assistive technology is presented, based on long elastic cords attached to an
exoskeleton and guided by pulleys placed at the joints. A general optimization procedure is described for finding the best geometrical arrangement of such "exotendons" for assisting a specific movement. Optimality is defined either as minimal residual joint moment or as minimal residual joint power. Four specific exotendon systems with increasing complexity are considered. Representative human gait data were used to optimize each of these four systems to achieve maximal assistance for normal walking.
Results: The most complex exotendon system, with twelve pulleys per limb, was able to reduce the joint moments required for normal walking by 71% and joint power by 74%. A simpler system, with only three pulleys per limb, could reduce joint moments by 46% and joint power by 47%.
Conclusion: It is concluded that unpowered passive elastic devices can substantially reduce the muscle forces and the metabolic energy needed for walking, without requiring a change in movement. When optimally designed, such devices may allow independent locomotion in patients with large deficits in muscle function.
van den Bogert, Antonie J., "Exotendons for Assistance of Human Locomotion" (2003). Mechanical Engineering Faculty Publications. 415.
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