Smart pants as exoskeleton

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In the future, intelligent leggings will supposedly help people with walking impediments to walk better. An intelligent exoskeleton worn under the clothing ensures that their gait is as natural as possible.

Until now, people with walking impediments had to rely on supporting structures that tend to be heavy and inflexible. Now all that is about to change. Researchers at ZHAW (Zurich University of Applied Sciences) are collaborating with European partners to develop a pair of thin leggings that stiffen or soften, depending on the movement. Based on sensor data, algorithms ensure that the “pants” support the affected limbs or let them move freely at the right moment. The shape of the design resembles a pair of comfortable leggings or socks. So the wearer can wear the walking aid under his/her clothing the entire day.

Exoskeleton worn discretely under clothing

Exoskeleton (Image: ZHAW).The aid would benefit patients with impaired muscles on the anterior side of the lower leg. Sensors can signal the beginning of the swing phase to a drive element to stabilize the movement. It can even trigger a movement that pulls the foot up. On landing, the exoskeleton softens again.

Algorithms analyze the movement that is recorded by the sensors. Besides pressure sensors and position sensors, the leggings also feature electromyograms, which measure the natural electric voltage in a muscle.

The “XoSoft” project is supported by the EU as well as the German government as part of the interim solution for Horizon 2020. The European consortium, which consists of nine partners, began development in February 2016. Researchers are planning to complete an initial prototype during the first year of the three-year project.

Exoskeleton (Image: ZHAW).

Algorithms help people with walking impediments move more naturally. (Image: ZHAW).