There are all kinds of exoskeletons out there. Some save you energy. Some help you do heavy work. Some lightly kick you in the knee. The question is, why does that last one exist? A Swiss research team thinks it can help them build better prosthetics.
Walking is simple, until something goes wrong. As you move along, your body responds to many different factors without consciously thinking about them. When you stumble, it has to respond to these factors very quickly. For a person with a prosthetic limb, this is a major problem — and it’s one scientists at the ETH Zurich and National Centre of Competence in Research Robotics are trying to solve by subjecting people to the “Knee Perturbator”. This machine “kicks” people in the leg as they walk, and measures how they respond.
It’s not designed to simulate being tackled, or falling down a flight of stairs. Instead, the exoskeleton assesses someone’s stride and provides an extra kick of energy when they get comfortable. People then compensate, and the perturbator measures the force they use to do so.
Once they’re done gathering information about how the knee responds to stumbles, stiffness and kicks, the researchers are going to set aside their exoskeleton perturbator and build an “emulator”. The emulator will respond to these perturbations, whatever their source, exactly the way a human knee does. The data from the emulator will then be integrated into prosthetic limbs, or orthotic braces, and help people who have lost a leg or are recovering from injuries.
Hopefully none of them will have lost a limb as the result of a bad encounter with the knee perturbator.