What’s an exoskeleton?

By now, you’re probably wondering what an exoskeleton is. Without realising it, you’re likely to have seen lots of examples in nature! Put simply, an exoskeleton is an external covering that supports and protects an animal’s body. Examples of animals with exoskeletons include cicadas, crabs, lobsters, turtles and even snails (that’s right, a shell is an exoskeleton!).

The emergence of human exoskeletons

Exoskeletons have been the focus of research and development for over 60 years, with a focus on both militaristic and medical applications.

Human exoskeleton technology has been in development since the 1960s, where American scientists at General Electric developed the first exoskeleton. Dubbed ‘The Hardiman’, it was operated by hydraulics and weighed in at over 680 kilograms – considered to be far too heavy and bulky to be of any use.

At around the same time, a team of scientists in what is now Serbia were focused on developing active exoskeletons with the goal of assisting with the rehabilitation of paraplegics. A lot of this research has greatly assisted in understanding of the human gait and has informed the development of modern high performance robots.

This has all culminated in the development of modern, high power exoskeletons that are used for a variety of purposes. In a world where humans are expected to work to a later age, this technology can keep them fit for purpose for longer, particularly when it comes to intensive labour jobs.

Car manufacturers in particular have shown a keen interest in this technology particularly where it allows humans to lift very heavy objects while exerting a similar amount of effort to what they would use by lifting light objects normally, helping to prevent serious injury in the workplace.

Medical applications

Here at RoboFit, we’re really excited about the possibilities this technology brings to rehabilitation, particularly when it comes to allowing those with Spinal Cord Injuries and stroke survivors to regain lost mobility.

According to Homayoon Kazerooni at the Berkeley Robots and Human Engineering Lab, human exoskeletons need to achieve four main goals in the medical field: Help a person stand up, sit down, start walking, and sit down.

We’re aiming to go beyond that. Learn more about RoboFit and our rehabilitation techniques here.

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