Tiny exoskeleton has a huge goal
When we think of mobility-enhancing exoskeletons, we tend to picture them being worn by adults. Engineers at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), however, have developed one that's designed specifically for kids. Not only does it help disabled children to walk, but it may also even save their lives.
The 12-kg (26-lb) aluminum/titanium exoskeleton is intended for use by children aged 3 to 14, who are suffering from spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).
A relatively rare neuromuscular disorder, SMA involves the loss of motor neurons and progressive muscle wasting, in some instances leaving the victim unable to walk. In the case of children, they instead end up spending most of their time lying prostrate. This posture and inactivity can in turn lead to complications such as scoliosis, osteoporosis and associated lung disfunction, the latter of which may ultimately result in death.
That's where the exoskeleton comes in.
It's designed to help the child move through a regular upright walking motion, which keeps their muscles trained and active, thus preventing the onset of conditions such as osteoporosis. An onboard microprocessor detects the wearer's leg muscle movements, then activates five motors in each of its own legs to help boost those motions accordingly. One charge of its battery should be good for five hours of therapeutic use.
The exoskeleton is currently undergoing clinical trials.
Boston Dynamics has officially unveiled its latest robot after footage leaked earlier in February showing the new design. Known as "Handle" the new research robot incorporates elements from the company's previous Altas robot, but achieves more efficient mobility by adding wheels and a significantly less complex joint system.
Described in February by company founder Marc Raibert as "nightmare inducing," Handle looks to be extraordinarily mobile, speeding down stairs, through snow and leaping up to four feet (1.2 m) vertically. According to the company, Handle can reach speeds up to 9 mph (14.5 km/h) and has a range of 15 miles (24 km) on a single battery charge. It appears this is one robot that could chase you just about anywhere.
Despite still being labeled a research robot, Handle is also shown to be able to pick up and transport boxes weighing up to 100 lb (45 kg), hinting at potential future commercial uses. The company claims that the combination of wheels and legs offer the robot "the best of both worlds" in the mobility stakes. The wheels also enable a significant reduction in complexity compared to the company's previous bipedal and quadrupedrobots, with Handle sporting around just 10 actuated joints.
Rumors circulated for much of 2016 that Boston Dynamics, currently owned by Alphabet, Google's parent company, was in the process of being acquired by Toyota's Research Institute. It's not hard to imagine the numerous ways Handle could be commercially exploited, especially after Toyota announced $1 billion dollars to fund its new robotic research institute in early 2016 and will likely be on the lookout for innovative robotic developments.
Take a look at Handle cruising around in the video below.
Source: Boston Dynamics