Flexible, soft robots containing muscle-like actuators could revolutionise rehabilitation for the infirm, say researchers at Switzerland's EPFL. Jim Drury reports.
These robotic muscle-like actuators could replace metal joints in exoskeletons. EPFL roboticists say the silicone rubber elastomer based parts are far more flexible. They could be used to help the infirm move around, while improving posture and reducing discomfort for lower back pain sufferers. SOUNDBITE (English) JAMIE PAIK, THE DIRECTOR OF EPFL'S RECONFIGURABLE ROBOTICS LAB (RRL), SAYING: "We can foresee a new type of technology being brought closer to our daily lives. When I say that, it's not us trying to bring in Terminator for everyone's home, but to bring in different types of technology that enable us to live healthier and live with more comfort, and that was not able to be done beforehand." The robots are controlled by changing the air pressure in special soft balloons that serve as its body. A modular system, they can be moved around the body to where physical support is needed. The team has devised this belt for potential use on stroke patients. SOUNDBITE (English) MATTHEW ROBERTSON, EPFL RESEARCHER, SPEAKING ABOUT THE BELT, SAYING: "In stroke patients I know they have a common asymmetry where they lean to one side and it could be used to correct for that asymmetry and then focus on if you're using it to restore gait the belt could do the task of providing the support for your upper body." The belt's hooked up to a system of external pumps. The team hopes to miniaturise these and place them directly on the belt.