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A technology derived from NASA’s Robonaut 2 project could help astronauts stay fit in space and may someday aid paraplegics in walking on Earth. Working with the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, Pensacola, FL, and engineers from Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston, NASA developed a mobility assistance robotic exoskeleton called X1. The X1 device is a wearable robot that has a dual purpose; it can assist or inhibit movement in leg joints.

In the inhibit mode, the device can be used for resistance exercise training for astronauts aboard the space station and possibly during future long-duration missions. But, reverse the mode, and the device may help paraplegics walk again, or perhaps walk for the first time.

Worn around the legs with a backpack type of harness, the X1 has 10 joints — four motorized joints at the hips and the knees, and six passive joints for sidestepping, turning and pointing, and flexing a foot. X1 is currently is in an R&D phase, where the primary focus is development, evaluation, and improvement of the technology.

In a more down to Earth need, the X1 may one day find use as an assistive walking device. It has the potential to produce high torques to allow for assisted walking over varied terrain, as well as stair climbing.

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