How many times have you come across the famous quote by Coco Channel – “The best things in life are for free…?” Indeed, the best things in life are for free and often taken for granted. If we were to make a list of x such things, health and well-being would top the list for sure.
And if you’re one of those who take it for granted, ask any Octogenarian and they’d tell you how it feels to lose strength and mobility with age and become dependent on others for everyday routine. It’s a big blow to one’s independence and self-esteem.
A power assist suit is a solution that sends artificial force as an assistance force to the force generated by human muscles. However, very less people are using these suits because they are expensive and are clumsy and very heavy to wear. Moreover, the myoelectric sensors those are used in these suits give wrong output force sometime that causes a power suit to go out of control and creates trouble for a wearer.
Well, someone has a very practical solution. A patent application of Sony claims to have developed a motion assist device that augments muscular strength in the elderly or factory workers while supporting them in very natural manner. This device doesn’t use myoelectric sensors and the use of only one actuator makes it light weight and less expensive.
Sony’s Power Assist Leg Suit Consist of
The power assist robotic leg suit by Sony consists of joints those are connected by links. The joints are present at hip, knee and ankle of the body. The legs assist suit supply assistive force to the muscle by calculating the angles made at these joints when a person walks.
These joints are connected to each other by links in the following manner –
- The hip joints are connected by a pelvis link (PL),
- The hip joint and knee joint is connected by a thigh link (TL) and,
- The knee joint and ankle joint is connected by a shank link (SL).
The thigh link includes an angle calculator that calculates the angle that is required to be made at hip and knee joints. You can also call it as artificial brain to operate your metallic bones.
Apart from this, the leg assisted suit houses contact sensors at bottom parts of the feet to determine whether or not a foot is grounded. These sensors also detect whether the leg is in a state of standing leg or an idling leg.
A computer that controls the whole leg suit by Sony is mounted on the pelvis part. It receives the angles made at various joints, data from contact sensors and use this information to provide assistive force to wearer’s muscles so that he can walk with a sense of naturalness and without any stress.
How Sony’s Power Assist Leg Suit is better than others?
The power assist suits those don’t use myoelectric sensors are less sensitive to the user’s motion. The reason is that these suits are not able to determine the external force that hinders the working of a suit. Hence, they provide unsupported force and cause stress or a sense of unnaturalness to the wearer.
According to the patent application, Sony is eliminating this problem through their mathematical model and disturbance sensors thereby providing the target output force with high accuracy.
Sony is trying to make these suit very light weight and less expensive. For example, they are using only one actuator and motor. This is reducing the cost of the suit and making it lightweight at the same.
Applications of the Power Assisted Leg Suit
Now you can make out how much power they can provide you if you have them attached to your body. We’ve listed down a number of scenarios to help you visualize that:
An octogenarian who is perhaps as fast and agile as yourself? Yes it could soon be a reality. There will be no exaggeration if we call these as metal bones.
- Enhanced Productivity in Factories: Using this assisted suit, workers now can lift much heavy weight with least use of their muscle power. You can see them carrying around big girders with their hands.
- Military: The TALOS suit is well known defense project of US Military that provides enhance mobility and protection to a soldier. It allows a soldier to carry 17 times more weight than normal.
Though major defense companies are already working in this area, we can now expect that Sony will soon join the league.
- Sporting around: Imagine your grandfather playing cricket and volleyball with almost the same vigour as you and your friends. He’d shout at you for purposely throwing him an easy ball.
- Patients in Hospitals: I hope you would have seen various patients in hospitals being assisted by a nurse to take them out for an outing. Now it would be no more necessary. Every bed can have an assisted suit which a patient can wear to go to the bathroom or a walk in the garden. Users can afford to be as agile as they were without using their own muscles thanks to Sony.
- Improved demographics for the country: Such a change in physical ability could very well increase retirement age and enable more people to work for longer year thereby improving productivity at both micro and macro levels.
- Disrupting the geriatric support market: Sony’s new technology could very well wipe out the market for walking sticks, automated rollers and wheelchairs. It could revolutionize geriatric care.
Do tell us in comments below what you think about the applications of this new technology.
Besides Sony, the Korean giant, Samsung, is also researching in robotics as they have made a wearable robot suit.