Project / Objectives
In order to move exoskeletons-for-walking toward real life applications, BALANCE will realize a platform-independent control strategy and architecture for such exoskeletons. The work will focus on robust balance performance and thus safety of the human wearing the exoskeleton.
The controlled exoskeleton will cooperate with and improve the postural balance function of the human user in situations of support and training, specifically in tasks of standing and walking, in a clinical or otherwise real-life environment.
More concretely, the BALANCE project will result in an exoskeleton for gait support that will be able to support the postural balance of a walking person. In the current state of the art, exoskeleton robots are able to support carrying the weight of a person or of a carried load, or to guide impaired legs through a step-like motion, but not able to support maintaining postural balance. They rather disturb this function, especially if the user has remaining control and the robot has to cooperate with the human.
Furthermore, specific gait actions that are very common for a normal healthy human, such as stepping up a small elevation, walking on an inclination, turning, starting and stopping, are at this point very difficult or impossible to do when “wearing” an exoskeleton. This already is the case for healthy users; let alone for people that really need the support, such as for example frail elderly or people with specific impairments. BALANCE aims to not impede these specific gait actions, but to support the postural balance during such actions.
The basic steps in which BALANCE will contribute to move beyond this state of the art, are:
Understanding in more detail the human control of postural balance, identifying specific postural balance supporting mechanisms (like reflexes or organizing principles or strategies), partly through experiments, partly through model studies.
Developing a bipedal control approach that reaches the same or similar performance as humans, evaluated on bipedal robots and exoskeletons.
Developing a control strategy to supporting the human postural balance control through an exoskeleton, in a cooperative control fashion, based on impedance adjustment control, and based on the results from the points above.
Hardware implementation of this control strategy containing the proper sensing and actuation elements, based on the ready available hardware in the consortium.
The final evaluation will be an evaluation study and demonstration that matches the achievements of the project. The final system will be evaluated both on healthy users and on users with neurological impairment. They will be “wearing” the exoskeleton, walking in a scenario that is very challenging to the postural balance (for healthy), or in a scenario where they are provided safety for training exercise (for patients). This can involve walking on a difficult surface, for example with obstacles, being slippery, or of low stiffness, or with additional limitations for example with eyes closed, or wearing a heavy load, or receiving perturbations. The evaluation will have a scientific character, but the demonstration will be targeted at external companies and the wider public.