Are Wearable Exoskeletons the Future of Mobility Devices?

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If you are a science fiction fan, you might have already encountered the sight of exoskeletons. If you aren’t, then this explanation is for you. Exoskeletons are motorized mechanical appliances affixed to an individual’s body to aid them in movement. Now you might have recollected its image, right?

From Robocop to Iron Man, the presence of exoskeletons is not completely untouched. But why are we discussing exoskeletons all of a sudden? This is because they are making an entry in real life. Isn’t that surprising news?

The researchers at Victoria University (VU) Institute for Health and Sport are incorporating the notion of exoskeletons in real-time to promote ease of movement among people putting up with physical impairments or neurological conditions like osteoarthritis, spinal cord damage, stroke, and similar health complications.

This is one of the organizations that has amalgamated biomechanics, robotics, computational intelligence, and wearable sensors. For more than a decade, VU has been consistently functioning on multiple pieces of research to make wearing these exoskeletons possible. This advent will undoubtedly take a toll on long-prevalent mobility aids like walking frames, wheelchairs, or canes.

Researchers, namely, Professor Rezaul Begg and Dr. Hanatsu Nagano, are indulged in an eminent Japanese organization, namely, CYBERDYNE (this anecdotally is also the name of a fictitious robotics company in the Terminator movies). This organization has designed the world’s first wearable cyborg, the Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) exoskeleton.

But, How Does a Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) Function?

HAL thoroughly recognizes and perceives the pain an impaired person undergoes in their muscle movements. They have installed a command or sensor operated by ‘micro-electricity’ attached to the wearer. This functions as an external robotic device affixed to the non-functioning limb. In case this is attached to the ankle, for instance, it will utilize the micro-electricity signal for accurately controlling the exoskeleton’s needed timing and ankle movement to walk.

It is through continuous training that the device will affect a wheelchair-bound person’s brain neuroplasticity. This will further aid in the reconnection of the signals between their impaired nervous system and limbs for boosting or restoring motor function.

Dr. Nagano stated, “Using exoskeletons for technology-assisted rehabilitation is already happening around the world. VU’s research with our Japanese partners is laying a foundation for clinical applications in Australia.”

Finally, it is within a matter of five to ten years that Dr Nagano predicts a HAL research center at VU where exoskeletons will be operated to work with the 54,000 wheelchair patients in Victoria.

After so much perseverance and patience, this project was accoladed with a prestigious grant from the Victorian Government’s Victorian Endowment for Science, Knowledge, and Innovation (VESKI). VU has also been reportedly associating with the University of Tsukuba in Japan on this concerned project.

All in all, this project can undoubtedly be acclaimed as a beam of hope for all the disabled people who have been striving to ease their movements.

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