Research into exoskeleton walking devices big leap forward for human-robot interactions – Technology & Science

At first glance it looks like a fancy leg brace.

But the “exoskeleton” system developed by a group of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh could open the door to a new, more customized way of approaching human-robot interaction.

Led by computer scientist Juanjuan Zhang, the team created a new method that could have widespread impact on the way human performance is enhanced by devices of many kinds, including those that help people with disabilities, paralysis or amputations.

That’s because the method referred to as “human in the loop” puts the person in control of the kind of assistance they get from the exoskeleton, Zhang told CBC News. 

That can include helping people to walk who wouldn’t otherwise be able to do so, or helping people to walk faster or to expend less energy when they’re on the move. The exoskeleton could also be used to help the user lift a heavy load.

Previously a therapist or other expert would be in charge of how the device worked, said Zhang.

Her team’s findings appear in the journal Science Thursday.

Machine and human learn each other

“In theory it’s very simple. In order to walk forward, you want ground reaction force to push you forward. If you push the ground harder, the ground will push you back harder. We help with the pushoff,” said Zhang, now an associate professor in Nankai University in China.

That kind of assistance is called torque.

A group of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has developed a new kind of exoskeleton system known as ‘human in the loop optimization.’ It puts the person in control of the kind of assistance they get from the devices, which can be used to help people with disabilities to walk or to walk with less effort. (Carnegie Mellon University)

Working with Steven Collins, a mechanical engineering professor at CMU working on the development of medical devices, Zhang’s team developed an algorithm to test varying kinds of help from the…

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