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Can Robotic Exoskeletons Built with AI Prevent Musculoskeletal Injuries?

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Advancements in AI continue to have a resounding effect on the robotics healthcare industry.  These sectors have made major progress over the last decade and now appear to be colliding synergistically. Here's how AI helps to make daily use of robotic exoskeletons a reality and why it's important to you.

Why Don’t We Have Exoskeletons in Use Already?

The idea of robotic exoskeletons has been around for a long time and has come far enough to support the concept of humanoid features and appendages. However, it's unlikely you will see a robotic exoskeleton when going to the grocery store or local mechanics. For now, this technology remains regulated in research facilities.

The main reason exoskeletons have been so difficult to make a viable solution in the workforce or other capacities is not the hardware restrictions but rather the software. It's easy to make a motor that operates like a joint. It's much harder to make a computer that can see like an eye or feel like a hand.

Source - eksobionics

Source – eksobionics

One of the main issues with exoskeletons to date is that they require extensive calibration and must be individualized for the person, scenario, environment, and tasks at hand. This intense programming requirement means that most exoskeletons remain limited in their capabilities.

Making More Versatile Exoskeletons

Exoskeleton developers recognized these limitations early on and used software as a means to try and alleviate the problem. The most advanced exoskeleton uses AI to look at a scenario and determine what program it most resembles in its libraries. This style of AI-assisted exoskeleton has been more successful but still requires more computational power than is currently available in a portable and affordable manner.

A New Approach

A team of mechanical engineers at Georgia Tech led by Aaron Young has introduced a clever solution to this issue, focusing the controls on the person's movements rather than the environment and creating a universal control standard. This strategy led the team to introduce the first universal approach to controlling robotic exoskeletons

Their work culminated in the introduction of an enhanced exoskeleton operating system that requires no training, calibration, or adjustments to use. Impressively, this system can make automatic heuristic adjustments based on whether the person is walking, standing, climbing stairs, or up ramps.

The Human Difference

This device contains many technological breakthroughs, but perhaps the most interesting aspect is that the researchers focus on human actions rather than the environment. This makes sense in hindsight, but using people's underlying physiology to understand the environment wasn't possible before the introduction of AI.

Artificial Intelligence

The new system integrates an AI deep learning algorithm to translate human actions into movement on the device. The unit references force and motion-capture data in real-time to replicate the intensity of movements and ensure optimal performance. Additionally, the AI eliminates the need for hand controls such as mode shifts for stairs or running.

Training the AI

Training the AI robotic exoskeleton required the engineers to create a data library. To accomplish this task, they gathered a group of users and had them wear the device while it was in a sensory mode. The researchers wanted to ensure a broad range of data, so they specifically sought out people of different genders and body types.

The control group participants were then asked to accomplish various tasks ranging from running and jumping to pressing down force plates to measure pressure. The participants also had to traverse stairs and ramps as part of the programming process.

All recorded data was fed to the deep learning AI algorithm library. This data enabled researchers to determine exactly what each joint was doing during certain activities. The final result was a universal exoskeleton controller that focuses situational awareness on the user's reactions rather than the environment.

Previous AI Ventures

Aaron Young and his team remain a pioneering force in the AI robotic exoskeleton sector. They have already produced other impressive products to help those with mobility issues. In one instance, the team created prosthetics that use AI to help children with brain injuries navigate safely.

Robotic Exoskeletons Make Life Better for Those Living with Disabilities

There are a million reasons why robotic exoskeletons would be a huge plus for society. Studies have shown that these devices can help those with disabilities get around freely. They are also helpful for the recovery process where they can help people regain their natural step.

Exoskeletons could be used in major industrial facilities in the future as they reduce fatigue and prevent injuries. From robot soldiers carrying more ammo into battle to mechanics taking your engine out smoothly, there are many ways this technology would improve life for everyone.

Innovative Solutions to Recovery and Rehab

The AI robotics healthcare sector is on the rise and innovative concepts continue to drive investor interest skyward. Today, there are more AI-powered robotic systems in operation than ever. Each of these devices continues to increase in its ability to communicate and assist in day-to-day tasks. Here are a couple of examples of how AI continues to reshape the market and open the door for new possibilities.

1. Limbitless Solutions

Limbitless Solutions launched in 2015 and is based out of the University of Central Florida. The research firm unveiled a new product recently that helps kids with missing limbs get over the stigma of using prosthetic limbs using custom overlays.

The children use an AI image generator powered by Adobe to create a selection of possible overlays based on their text input. Notably, the majority of the children choose video game and movie characters as their décor. Once they select which designs they like, a 3D-printed version is made. The overlay is easy to install as it snaps to the prosthetic limb directly.

Notably, the team is currently working with a group of children from the Orlando Health Arnold Palmer's Hospital for Children. The participants reported higher morale after customizing their prosthetics. In the future, you could see many more cool and personalized prosthetics thanks to this innovative concept.

2. Rewalk Robotics aka ‘DBA Lifeward'

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Rewalk Robotics is another firm worth keeping an eye on moving forward. The firm recently introduced a soft, textile-based personal exoskeleton designed to help stroke victims relearn their original gate. The system uses AI to register and adjust your steps in motion.

The device was built with soft materials to cut down on weight and add to its comfort. It's easy to use and can be strapped to a patient in under five minutes which adds to its accessibility. Additionally, its lightweight and foldable material makes it more affordable and easier to store compared to other options.

The user is equipped with a control pad that latches to their wrist. This remote is used to adjust the exoskeleton's situational performance. There are options for stairs, improving your endurance, gentle walks, and other helpful options.

Rewalk offers a selection of AI-powered robotic recovery solutions worth checking out. The company ensures all devices are  FDA- and CE-cleared which helps patients get insurance assistance.

Use Cases – AI Robotic Exoskeletons

The demand for intelligent exoskeletons expanded across multiple sectors over the last decade. These devices could one day be used to hurt, heal, and help, depending on the scenario. Here are a couple of exoskeleton use cases worth keeping up on.

Military

You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the military-industrial complex has long had its eyes on exoskeletons. DARPA has funded numerous competitions to drive innovation in the military exoskeleton concepts. These groups see multiple uses for these devices on the battlefield.

Exoskeletons could one day enable soldiers to bring more supplies into battle or traverse longer ranges on foot. They could also play a vital role in getting the wounded back to safety and keeping supply lines functional.

Industrial

The robotic industrial revolution changed multiple industries. Today's vehicles are more reliable, advanced, and complex thanks to the precision these devices can handle. The first generation of robotics couldn’t think and had to follow simple instructions. This generation will have the ability to do multiple tasks based on what's needed at the time.

Smart Robots have helped companies like Amazon gain a competitive edge in the market. As AI interactions become more fluent thanks to the introduction of LLM chatbots like Chat GPT, the future will include humans using exoskeletons working alongside robots powered by advanced AI systems.

Space Travel

Robotic exoskeletons could help astronauts traverse the dynamic environments found in outer space in the future. Notably, robotics have played a vital role in past exploration including use in the International Space Station.

NASA unveiled its first robotic exoskeleton X1 way back in 2012. Interestingly, the device wasn't developed to help astronauts build homes on the moon, but rather it was created to assist in rehabilitating patients after hip surgeries. Today's versions use AI and smaller batteries to improve performance

Smart Exoskeletons Making Your Life Better

If you have ever had to shovel a driveway in the cold or carry heavy items under the summer sun, you can see how having an exoskeleton could be helpful. The integration of AI has taken this tech from motors to thinking machines that can help people prevent injuries and heal from disabilities. For these reasons, AI robotics is a must-watch sector.

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David Hamilton is a full-time journalist and a long-time bitcoinist. He specializes in writing articles on the blockchain. His articles have been published in multiple bitcoin publications including Bitcoinlightning.com