BDEF Co-chair, Suaad Walker, recently attended The Right Trousers event at UWE’s Future Space in their Robotics Lab. The event centred on a research project into robotic trousers to help those with impaired mobility.
The location was fully accessible. The event was a showcase/feedback for some of the research that is being collaboratively worked on by several universities: Bristol, UWE, Leeds, Loughborough, Nottingham, Southampton and Strathclyde. Funding is a mix of EU and UK health funding to look at ways of using robotics to improve independent living. This event particularly focused on the use of robotics to overcome restricted mobility in terms of getting out of a chair/walking as well as reducing the problems associated with drop-foot syndrome. Bristol showcased their work with focus groups of elderly and disabled to identify exactly what kind of help is needed in a variety of different scenarios as well as helping the researchers to better understand the experience of impaired mobility. This feedback suggested that assistive trousers would need to be light-weight, cheap, comfortable, and easy to take on and off plus be washable!
Research so far has:
- Resulted in a specialist 3D printer that combines viscous silicone with a hardener to produce a substance that is textile like and has the potential to act like an artificial muscle when stimulated.
- Precision motion capture technology that concentrates on joint functionality and has a built in feed-back similar to, but a major improvement, on current ‘health-wristband’ technology.
- Several different varieties of artificial muscle:
- A flat plastic, folded like a strip of origami paper that unfolds when electrically stimulated to simulate muscle activity.
- A flat tube of plastic that fills with air pressure to simulate muscle activity.
- A sequence of connected plastic beads that fill with air pressure to simulate muscle activity.
- An ‘activator’ small enough to clip onto a belt that contains enough compressed air for 100 ‘doses’ of ‘muscle activation’.
- A ‘slim’ sock designed to overcome the problems of foot drop incorporating a further form of artificial muscle.
- A pair of trousers incorporating many of the above developments.
- A pair of trousers that can be remotely lowered or raised when activated.