The exoskeleton is wearable from the waist down and is vastly different from the armored stuff you see in today’s science fiction movies. (Credit: EPFL)

Wearable machines that enhance your movement and endurance no longer belong to the realm of science fiction. They are being developed today in the laboratory, and in this controlled setting, already prevent the elderly from falling.

Scientists have built a prototype of a smart, lightweight, and easy-to-personalize exoskeleton that counteracts the loss of balance and promotes balance recovery after an accidental slip. This is a first in wearable machines, which are normally used to assist or enhance regular movement, instead of preventing an unexpected event like falling.

The device is equipped with motors at the hip and braces made out of carbon fiber. An important aspect of the system is to ensure that the exoskeleton is nonintrusive. It should not unnecessarily disturb the user, particularly when the user is not falling. The next steps involve making the exoskeleton more discrete and portable for the outside world and to test its usability with end users in real-life environments.

The variable nature of human behavior represents the main challenge for researchers dealing with the design of wearable robotics. The work paves the way for a new generation of exoskeletons that will augment users’ movement and make their mobility safer and more stable.