An exoskeleton suit is designed to provide support, assistance and protection for the human body. Starting from these main functions and combining several technologies, researchers create robotic suits for military use to help soldiers with a bit of super-human strength, medical exoskeleton suits that offer hope for paralyzed persons, and exosuits that augments the human strength and speed.
The idea of an armor that cover the human body and provides extra power occurred many years ago, more precisely in 1868 in a science fiction book called “The Steam Man of the Prairies.” Since then we assist to a revolution and a constant effort to develop light but strong mechanical suits that can work for several hours, restore the ability to walk or improve the maneuverability and agility of humans.
Reviewing all the exoskeleton suits from assistant, medical and military use, I would like to help you to stay in touch with the most popular exosuits in prototyping phase or available for sale.
HAL is one of the most advanced exoskeleton suit with a long history since 1992 when the suit was released. Behind this project is a Japanese company called Cyberdyne, which recently released the fifth version of the costume with new and improved features.
HAL is available for commercial use and is mainly used in industry to lift weights, for medical purposes by patients with limb disabilities, or in common activities.
The suit is split in two parts: half of the suit is located on the top side of the human body, while the second part is for legs. The total height of the suit is 1.6 meters and weighs only 23 Kg. It is powered by a battery that last up to 2 hours and 40 minutes in a full working stage when the user can walk, lift weights, or use the suit for entertainment.
HAL is not perfect and cannot be used as a superhero. One of his limits is the maximum weight that can be lifted and limited to 70Kg, which I have to recognize that is a good value, more than a human can support.
HAL sense the moving of the body using the center of gravity that is changed when the foot is under movement. The brain of the suit calculates the position and sense the movement and direction of the body. All of this information is provided by sensors, from angular to acceleration sensors, and from force to bioelectrical sensors.
Walkbot is a powered exoskeleton suit designed in South Korea by P&S Mechanics company. The idea behind this project is to create a robotic exoskeleton to help stroke survivors for supporting their life in normal.
Walkbot cannot be used to lift weights. It is a mechanical suit engineered for medical purposes since the main body of the suit is positioned in the lower-body of the patient.
The suit can be used by patients with heights between 155 centimeters to maximum 200 centimeters and a maximum weight of 100 Kg.
Mindwalker is a mechanical suit prototype designed to hold the person up and propel them forward. In 2012 the exosuit makes the first demonstration at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. The control system is a highly advanced EEG bio-sensor able to read the mind of the patient.
Compared with other exoskeleton suits, Mindwalker focuses on the patient’s mind by applying an EEG cap on the human head. The EEG cap reads the signals from the brain and translate these signals into commands.
This new system has more control over the mobile suit parts in comparison with technologies that read the movements of human body parts.
Before to be used daily, the patient is supposed to trainings in order to learn how the brain signal can be used to control the suit.
With more than eight years under development, REX powered exoskeleton arrives to the final version designed to replace the wheelchair for patients with falls or mobility problems. Using REX suit the user can walk again and can move independently in daily routines.
The robotic suit is designed in the labs of Rexbionics and it has a low weight due to lightweight materials used to build the frame.
Combining new and advanced technologies, ReWalk is one of the most advanced robotic exoskeleton suit designed for use in exploring different surface of terrains or at home. The battery can store sufficient energy for a working day, while powerful actuators move the legs.
The suit uses a flexible system with a high degree of freedom for climbing stairs or allowing the user to turn around. The brain of the suit is an on-board computer, while the inputs come from sensors. ReWalk is engineered to provide walking movement for people with disabilities with a specific control that use changes in the center of gravity. A tilt sensor located in the upper body sends signals to the control system, and the result is the first step of the suit.
The LOPES exosuit is a project started in the labs from University of Twente. In 2012 the mechanical suit comes with a refreshed design ready to be tested on patients with disabilities. LOPES is designed for stroke survivors and provide them the freedom to walk again. Since 2001 when the suit project was started, LOPES has gone through many changes and the final result is a versatile exoskeleton with elastic actuators at the knee.
With many degrees of freedom, LOPES provides a wide range of possibilities for use, and it can be adapted to support patients with different mobility problems.
eLEGS is the result of the combination between artificial intelligence and advanced technologies for gesture recognition. Designed by Berkeley Bionics, eLEGS is a lower body exoskeleton suit built for paralyzing people and allows them to walk again.
The robotic system has a flexible body to fit on any patient height between 157 and 193 cm, and a maximum weight of 100Kg. eLEGS is built from lightweight materials and the result is a lightweight exoskeleton suit that weighs 20Kg. The robotic suit is flexible and is able to sustain the user and offer freedom to walk and stand up again.
It has a powerful computer able to run algorithms and control the actuators. The sensors are used to detect the gesture and to send information to a computer in order to control the movement. The patients can run at a maximum speed of up to 3 Km/hour for up to six hours of continuing use.
The Vanderbilt University builds a medical exoskeleton for people with disabilities. The exoskeleton is linked to a human body in three main parts: at the torso, on legs and feet. The robotic suit uses the patient leans to understand the intention of moving. If the user leans forward, the suit recognizes the movement of the human body and moves the suit parts that sustain the human body.
With a weight of 12.25 kg (27 pounds), the exosuit can be carried easily and allows patients to move freely.
The X1 is a robotic suit designed by NASA to be used in space or for medical purposes. The X1 has a big potential to become the most advanced robotic suit designed for both patients with disabilities or as an assistant for humans that explore the space. The suit is designed to work on different terrain types as well as climbing stairs. With only 26 Kg, the robotic suit is very flexible and can provide additional force for astronauts during surface exploration.
Even it is under development, the X1 is a project for future space explorations. The suit has 10 degrees of freedom and covers the entire human body. It has a comfortable structure for humans and can be easily adjusted to fit any human body.
This is the first industrial exoskeleton suit and is designed by a Panasonic subsidiary venture called Activelink. Called Power Loader, the exosuit is planned to be released on the market starting with 2015 at a price of around to about $4800 US dollars. It is a helpful tool for humans that need extra force to lift weights beyond human strength. The robot can be used in constructions as well for emergencies.
Three axes for each leg are used to lift weights up to 100 Kg (220 lbs), and with force improvements, the user can use the suit to lift up to 227 Kg (500 lbs). Using batteries and 18 electric motors, the Power Loader has enough force to work for several hours in heavy conditions.
Using air and pneumatic artificial muscles (PAMs), researchers from the University of Tokyo can increase the force of the human body to lift heavy loads. These PAMs are designed to mimic the human muscle and are strong enough to lift 50 kg.
With less power and a 9Kg suit weight, the user has available a weight ratio of 400 times greater compared to suit that uses actuators to increase the human force.
The technology used has advantages and disadvantages. One of the main disadvantages is the range of suit that is limited, while the second biggest disadvantage is the maneuverability that is reduced compared with other robotic suits.
Walk Assist was revealed by Honda as a concept in 2010 in the “Why Design Now?” exhibition. The exoskeleton has a special design that sustains the entire weight of the user while walking or climb stairs. Used in industry, Walk Assist offers support for workers to stand up for hours or in medical purposes for patients who need support.
Two built-in shoes and a lens system capture the intention of the user and take decision to walk in that direction. Designed and developed by Honda, the X2 motors are used to provide movement, while the battery provides energy for around two working hours. With a total weight of 6.5Kg, the exoskeleton is portable and can be easily carried with a minimum of space.
CAPIO is a special tele-operated exoskeleton for robotic control in different areas where human presence is dangerous. CAPIO is a passive exoskeleton that provides full control for users connected to a robot. With simple limb movements and a simple human-machine interface, the operator has a total control to a remote robot from space or in dangerous areas. The exoskeleton detects the movements of the limbs and sends information to the robot.
The links between exoskeleton and human body are in different areas of the hands, arms, shoulders and hips. With 13.5 Kg weight, the tele-operated exoskeleton can be easily transported.
Built by Tokyo Agriculture and Technology University, this exoskeleton suit was engineered for agricultural tasks in order to reduce the workload of workers. The force of the worker is increased with eight electric motors.
Another unconventional exosuit based on magnetic fluids that under electricity change the viscosity and produce motion comes from the MIT labs.
The operator can lift up to 36 Kg (80 pounds), while the entire weight is transmitted to the ground through exoskeleton parts. Since the human body is not supposed to any exterior forces, the robotic suit is perhaps the best exoskeleton that can be used in industrial environments or for soldiers.
Back to the motion, the magnetic fluid is a very efficient system to produce motion compared with electric motors.
Berkeley Bionics and Lockheed Martin have been working closely to build the most advanced exoskeleton suit for military use. Used in military missions, the Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) provides extra force for soldiers and can work up to 72 hours without pause. It has a design that allows soldiers to carry weight on different terrain surfaces.
The frame supports a maximum weight of 90 Kg (200 pounds) and can run at a speed of 11 Km/h. In addition, for a short period the soldier can run at a maximum speed of 16Km/h. The 72 hours are not enough on the battlefront and this is the reason that an extra battery pack is necessary to rise up the working time. This extra battery pack increased substantially the range of the exosuit with a battery capacity from 100 to 1000-watt. The extra battery pack is lightweight and have extra performances compared with old style batteries.
HULC is 100% connected to the soldier’s body and feel the body movements to synchronize with the exoskeleton parts.
XOS is a military exoskeleton engineered to help the soldiers to carry up to 90 kg (200 lb) of loads. The frame already reached the second generation and has improved features like a lower impact over the human body and a faster reaction. A soldier with this robot suit can replace on the battlefield at least others three soldiers.
This is far away to be a completed robotic suit, but it is a robotic arm that drew the attention of the James Dyson Foundation who offered an award of $45,000. Built from titan, a strong and lightweight material, the affordable arm is ergonomic, non-invasive, wireless, and powered by a battery.
With increased arm strength by 40 percent, the titan arm is useful in several applications including physical rehabilitation. With a price of only $2,000, even it is not a completed exosuit, the titan arm is a resource that can quickly become widely used.
This article was last modified on 11 February 2014.