Researchers at Scuola Sant’Anna in Italy and EPFL in Switzerland have developed a very unique type of exoskeleton: Instead of granting the user Iron Man-like super strength, their exoskeleton stops elderly people from falling over. This might sound like a somewhat trivial super power to grant, but the numbers beg to differ.
According to the American National Council on Aging, “One-fourth of Americans aged 65+ falls each year. Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.”
At the moment the exoskeleton is a “prototype of a smart, light-weight and easy-to-personalize exoskeleton that counteracts the loss of balance and promotes balance recovery after an accidental slip,” by detecting deviations from normal walking patterns.
The motors then kick in to action to automatically push both thighs downward, to reestablish “stability at the hip.”
According to researcher Silvestro Micera, professor at EPFL and Scuola Sant’Anna, the system is “light-weight and extremely easy to personalize,” taking only a few minutes to be fitted to new users and learn their particular walking characteristics.
Now the prototype exoskeleton has proven to be effective, the researchers are focussing on making the device more discrete and more portable. And one day, old ladies will be the ones helping the younger people cross the street with their cool superior robot legs.