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Title: Toward goal-oriented robotic gait training: The effect of gait speed and stride length on lower extremity joint torques
Robot-assisted gait training is becoming increasingly common to support recovery of walking function after neurological injury. How to formulate controllers capable of promoting desired features in gait, i.e. goals, is complicated by the limited understanding of the human response to robotic input. A possible method to formulate controllers for goal-oriented gait training is based on the analysis of the joint torques applied by healthy subjects to modulate such goals. The objective of this work is to understand how sagittal plane joint torque is affected by two important gait parameters: gait speed (GS) and stride length (SL). We here present the results obtained from healthy subjects walking on a treadmill at different speeds, and asked to modulate stride length via visual feedback. Via principal component analysis, we extracted the global effects of the two factors on the peak-to-peak amplitude of joint torques. Next, we used a torque pulse approximation analysis to determine optimal timing and amplitude of torque pulses that approximate the SL-specific difference in joint torque profiles measured at different values of GS. Our results show a strong effect of GS on the torque profiles in all joints considered. In contrast, SL mostly affects the torque produced at the knee more » joint at early and late stance, with smaller effects on the hip and ankle joints. Our analysis generated a set of torque assistance profiles that will be experimentally tested using gait training robots. « less
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Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
IEEE International Conference on Rehabiliation Robotics
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
270 to 275
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  1. Robot assisted gait retraining is an increasingly common method for supporting restoration of walking function after neurological injury. Gait speed, an indicator of walking function, is correlated with propulsive force, a measure modulated by the posture of the trailing limb at push-off. With the ultimate goal of improving efficacy of robot assisted gait retraining, we sought to directly target gait propulsion, by exposing subjects to pulses of joint torque applied at the hip and knee joints to modulate push-off posture. In this work, we utilized a robotic exoskeleton to apply pulses of torque to the hip and knee joints, during individual strides, of 16 healthy control subjects, and quantified the effects of this intervention on hip extension and propulsive impulse during and after application of these pulses. We observed significant effects in the outcome measures primarily at the stride of pulse application and generally no after effects in the following strides. Specifically, when pulses were applied at late stance, we observed a significant increase in propulsive impulse when knee and/or hip flexion pulses were applied and a significant increase in hip extension angle when hip extension torque pulses were applied. When pulses were applied at early stance, we observed amore »significant increase in propulsive impulse associated with hip extension torque.« less
  2. Abstract Background

    Ankle-targeting resistance training for improving plantarflexion function during walking increases rehabilitation intensity, an important factor for motor recovery after stroke. However, understanding of the effects of resisting plantarflexion during stance on joint kinetics and muscle activity—key outcomes in evaluating its potential value in rehabilitation—remains limited. This initial study uses a unilateral exosuit that resists plantarflexion during mid-late stance in unimpaired individuals to test the hypotheses that when plantarflexion is resisted, individuals would (1) increase plantarflexor ankle torque and muscle activity locally at the resisted ipsilateral ankle, but (2) at higher forces, exhibit a generalized response that also uses the unresisted joints and limb. Further, we expected (3) short-term retention into gait immediately after removal of resistance.


    Ten healthy young adults walked at 1.25 m s−1for four 10-min discrete bouts, each comprising baseline, exposure to active exosuit-applied resistance, and post-active sections. In each bout, a different force magnitude was applied based on individual baseline ankle torques. The peak resistance torque applied by the exosuit was 0.13 ± 0.01, 0.19 ± 0.01, 0.26 ± 0.02, and 0.32 ± 0.02 N m kg−1, in the LOW, MED, HIGH, and MAX bouts, respectively.


    (1) Across all bouts, participants increased peak ipsilateral biological ankle torque by 0.13–0.25 N m kg−1(p < 0.001) during exosuit-applied resistance compared to corresponding baselines. Additionally, ipsilateral soleusmore »activity during stance increased by 5.4–11.3% (p < 0.05) in all but the LOW bout. (2) In the HIGH and MAX bouts, vertical ground reaction force decreased on the ipsilateral limb while increasing on the contralateral limb (p < 0.01). Secondary analysis found that the force magnitude that maximized increases in biological ankle torque without significant changes in limb loading varied by subject. (3) Finally, peak ipsilateral plantarflexion angle increased significantly during post-exposure in the intermediate HIGH resistance bout (p < 0.05), which corresponded to the greatest average increase in soleus activity (p > 0.10).


    Targeted resistance of ankle plantarflexion during stance by an exosuit consistently increased local ipsilateral plantarflexor effort during active resistance, but force magnitude will be an important parameter to tune for minimizing the involvement of the unresisted joints and limb during training.

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  3. Control of adaptive walking requires the integration of sensory signals of muscle force and load. We have studied how mechanoreceptors (tibial campaniform sensilla) encode 'naturalistic' stimuli derived from joint torques of stick insects walking on a horizontal substrate. Previous studies showed that forces applied to the legs using the mean torque profiles of a proximal joint were highly effective in eliciting motor activities. However, substantial variations in torque direction and magnitude occurred at the more distal femoro-tibial joint, which can generate braking or propulsive forces and provide lateral stability. To determine how these forces are encoded, we utilized torque waveforms of individual steps that had maximum values in stance in the directions of flexion or extension. Analysis of kinematic data showed that the torques in different directions tended to occur in different ranges of joint angles. Variations within stance were not accompanied by comparable changes in joint angle but often reflected vertical ground reaction forces and leg support of body load. Application of torque waveforms elicited sensory discharges with variations in firing frequency similar to those seen in freely walking insects. All sensilla directionally encoded the dynamics of force increases and showed hysteresis to transient force decreases. Smaller receptors exhibitedmore »more tonic firing. Our findings suggest that dynamic sensitivity in force feedback can modulate ongoing muscle activities to stabilize distal joints when large forces are generated at proximal joints. Further, use of 'naturalistic' stimuli can reproduce characteristics seen in freely moving animals that are absent in conventional restrained preparations.« less
  4. Powered ankle exoskeletons that apply assistive torques with optimized timing and magnitude can reduce metabolic cost by ∼10% compared to normal walking. However, finding individualized optimal control parameters is time consuming and must be done independently for different walking modes (e.g., speeds, slopes). Thus, there is a need for exoskeleton controllers that are capable of continuously adapting torque assistance in concert with changing locomotor demands. One option is to use a biologically inspired, model-based control scheme that can capture the adaptive behavior of the human plantarflexors during natural gait. Here, based on previously demonstrated success in a powered ankle-foot prosthesis, we developed an ankle exoskeleton controller that uses a neuromuscular model (NMM) comprised of a Hill type musculotendon driven by a simple positive force feedback reflex loop. To examine the effects of NMM reflex parameter settings on (i) ankle exoskeleton mechanical performance and (ii) users’ physiological response, we recruited nine healthy, young adults to walk on a treadmill at a fixed speed of 1.25 m/s while donning bilateral tethered robotic ankle exoskeletons. To quantify exoskeleton mechanics, we measured exoskeleton torque and power output across a range of NMM controller Gain (0.8–2.0) and Delay (10–40 ms) settings, as well as amore »High Gain/High Delay (2.0/40 ms) combination. To quantify users’ physiological response, we compared joint kinematics and kinetics, ankle muscle electromyography and metabolic rate between powered and unpowered/zero-torque conditions. Increasing NMM controller reflex Gain caused increases in average ankle exoskeleton torque and net power output, while increasing NMM controller reflex Delay caused a decrease in net ankle exoskeleton power output. Despite systematic reduction in users’ average biological ankle moment with exoskeleton mechanical assistance, we found no NMM controller Gain or Delay settings that yielded changes in metabolic rate. Post hoc analyses revealed weak association at best between exoskeleton and biological mechanics and changes in users’ metabolic rate. Instead, changes in users’ summed ankle joint muscle activity with powered assistance correlated with changes in their metabolic energy use, highlighting the potential to utilize muscle electromyography as a target for on-line optimization in next generation adaptive exoskeleton controllers.« less
  5. Objective

    This study examined the interaction of gait-synchronized vibrotactile cues with an active ankle exoskeleton that provides plantarflexion assistance.


    An exoskeleton that augments gait may support collaboration through feedback to the user about the state of the exoskeleton or characteristics of the task.


    Participants ( N = 16) were provided combinations of torque assistance and vibrotactile cues at pre-specified time points in late swing and early stance while walking on a self-paced treadmill. Participants were either given explicit instructions ( N = 8) or were allowed to freely interpret (N=8) how to coordinate with cues.


    For the free interpretation group, the data support an 8% increase in stride length and 14% increase in speed with exoskeleton torque across cue timing, as well as a 5% increase in stride length and 7% increase in speed with only vibrotactile cues. When given explicit instructions, participants modulated speed according to cue timing—increasing speed by 17% at cues in late swing and decreasing speed 11% at cues in early stance compared to no cue when exoskeleton torque was off. When torque was on, participants with explicit instructions had reduced changes in speed.


    These findings support that the presence of torque mitigates how cues were usedmore »and highlights the importance of explicit instructions for haptic cuing. Interpreting cues while walking with an exoskeleton may increase cognitive load, influencing overall human-exoskeleton performance for novice users.


    Interactions between haptic feedback and exoskeleton use during gait can inform future feedback designs to support coordination between users and exoskeletons.

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