Exoskeletons in action

In this blog we discuss in general technologies that would aid the elderly, in this case I want to zoom a little closer in on exoskeletons in particulary.  While I was browsing the web, I came across a video of already existing exoskeletons which were designed for the us military.  The link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIBnJWTrKvI.  But as you can hear in the movie, it’s not yet a feasable design for real life applications.

One of the main points of discussion I want to open here is a remark that the test person says.  He says at some point:’ If he wants to do something of its own, I can’t do a thing about it.’  This is important to take into account in the discussion whether to implement exoskeletons for mobility in the daily life.  How safe are exoskeletons?  Because they are around your body (attached to the body), so when they get a will of their own, you (as person in the exoskeleton) can be seriously injured.  That is really important to take into account if you are designing them.  Can it be designed waterproof, with no bugs nor defects?  And if we go wider in our approuch, also other technologies can be very helpful, but will they not hurt the person who uses it?  If electric doors fail, then the person can’t exit his house!

In my opinion companies have to be responsible for the injuries or serious inconveniences  that, in this case, exoskeletons do to the persons.  And if they harm the testperson, they have to pay a great amount of money to that person.  Because you have to be sure as a client that the robot will not harm you.  The obvious reason of this statement is that the robot (which will cost a great deal of money) will facilitate your life, not ruin it!  So every company has to have a design that can guarantee the safety of the person in the exoskeleton and it has to be checked by not only the company but also experts outside the company (of the governement?).

So in general, if you use advanced technologies, companies have to have a fully tested and well designed product.  Otherwise it isn’t responsible to bring it on the market.  And if they do implement a product on the market, without fully tested it, they have to be fined when it fails.

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2 Responses to Exoskeletons in action

  1. geoffreybastiaens says:

    Safety of exoskeletons is a very necessary but tricky subject. An exoskeleton is a mobile application which tells us that it has to have a mobile source of energy. If you choose to actuate your mechanism by a battery, you will have to make sure that the chance of the person touching the ‘live’ wires or connections is zero. Isolating (insulating) the person can be done by a rather simple design.

    If you choose a pneumatic drive line, you will have to be sure that the storage of the pressurized gas is safe because the pressures needed for such an application are high enough to hurt a person. And is it also safe to walk around with a tank of pressurized gas on your back? (Though, divers generally carry a tank with pressurized air up to 300 bar)

    Another, more challenging, issue is what to do if a power failure occurs. Imagine a person performing a daily routine like walking down the stairs. The person needs the exoskeleton to aid him/her because his or her muscles can’t provide the necessary forces anymore. This makes the person dependent on the mechanism. If the exoskeleton fails at this critical point in time, what do we want it to do? If it doesn’t do anything, the person will have to take care of the complete movement and deliver the necessary force. Two things make it very dangerous. First, the person will probably not be able to finish the movement because of low muscle strength (the reason why (s)he wears the exoskeleton in the first place). And even if, for some reason, the person is capable of doing so, the element of surprise (the sudden failure) will reduce the chance of the person reacting in time.

    We can also choose to implement some failure protocol into the exoskeleton. For instance: we can make the mechanism stay in a fixed position when a failure occurs. During walking, such a protocol will probably keep the person in balance. But when going up or down the stairs, such a protocol will probably initiate a fall. So finding a mutual suiting protocol for every movement supported by the exoskeleton will not be easy, and maybe even impossible.

  2. karelvanderelst says:

    Legal responsibilities regarding damage claims probably won’t be dramatically different for exoskeletons. Safety obviously is an issue, as it is concerning every medical applications or technology that comes in close contact with humans. In my opinion, this is already sufficiently governed by law in so far as to ignore any concerns you might have. I’m only referring to medical exoskeleton of course, as military appliances obey a different set of rules.

    Geoffrey raises an interesting point however, design-wise there’s still a long way to go in order for exoskeletons, mainly those that support the legs, to be resistant to failure. Blocking the mechanism when a power failure occurs, leads to the inability of the wearer to sit down. Allowing the device to move in every direction, might cause accidents due to falling. Backup mechanisms, or higher degrees of redundancy, are a necessity, which in turn will increase the safety (and lower the failure rate) of the appliance.

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