The lab will develop lighter wearable robots that can be put on like a suit. (Credit: University of Twente)

The next generation of wearable robots will have lightweight parts, can be put on like a suit, and will not require additional support from crutches, according to researchers. The new types of suits will have light actuators functioning in a different way from the ones in conventional robots, and they will offer real-time control using personalized muscle models and EMG measurements.

Wearable robots help people in regaining and strengthening their mobility. They replace or improve a body function that is damaged, or act as a training instrument that, in the end, enables patients to walk fully by themselves again. In this way, they can also lighten the work of therapists. After a stroke or paraplegia, robots can help patients stand up and walk again. But wearable robots can also help people that structurally overload their body doing their work. Another robotic application is telepresence: the movements of the person wearing the robot are transferred to a distant robotic arm, for example.

Currently existing wearable robots are often exoskeletons, which contain many rigid parts, electric engines, and batteries. The University of Twente’s new robotics lab is questioning why these bulky and heavy external skeletons are needed while the problem is actually not in the skeleton of the patient but in nerves and muscles. To address this, Herman van der Kooij, professor of biomechatronics and his group is currently working on a new type of knee orthosis, to be followed by the ankle and hip, resulting in a full suit in the end.

Testing these new robots with patients and test subjects also requires a safe environment in which the risk of falling is minimized, which the new lab provides with a harness system attached to the ceiling.