When walking, a person’s center of mass is like a pendulum that is highest at midstance, when the leg is straight. The opposite happens when running. The body moves like a spring-mass system and is lowest at midstance when the hip, knee and ankle are flexed.
This reality of how the body works presents a challenge when it comes to developing devices to assist walking and running. It seemed impossible to create a portable device that could aid different gait cycles.
Researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and the University of Nebraska Omaha were up for the challenge. They’ve developed a soft exosuit that adjusts to support both walking and running.
The suit is worn at the waist and thighs. It’s made of textile components that are comfortable as opposed to a rigid device. The fabric is structured to mimic the function of the underlying tendons and muscles, so when force is applied, the exosuit works in parallel with the body. A cable system, attached to the lower back, is controlled by an algorithm that uses sensors to detect the transition from walking to running and vice versa.
The cables transmit forces from the waist belt to the joints. The exosuit could have a range of applications including assisting people with gait impairments and protecting industry workers from injury. For more information, visit www.wyss.harvard.edu.