skip to main content

Title: Design Tradeoffs in the Development of a Wearable Soft Exoskeleton for Upper Limb Mobility Disorders

This paper investigates the tradeoffs between design variables important for the development of a mobility support soft exoskeleton for horizontal shoulder adduction. The soft exoskeleton utilizes discreet shape memory alloy (SMA) spring actuators to generate the required torque to move the arm segment, while preserving the qualities of a soft, wearable garment solution. A pilot benchtop test involving varying power input, actuator anchor position, actuator orientation, and added weight, was investigated to evaluate their effects against the degree of motion the soft exoskeleton allows. The results show that the power input, actuator anchor position, and simulated limb weight each affect the ultimate horizontal adduction angle the exoskeleton is able to induce. Further, the project highlights a crucial point in regard to the tradeoffs between functionality and wearability: when actuator orientation was investigated, we found a decrement in functionality (as measured by maximum achievable horizontal adduction angle) when the actuators were constrained close to the body. This shows that when aiming to improve the hypothetical system’s wearability/usability, the effective torque that can be generated is reduced. Together these findings demonstrate important design considerations while developing a wearable, soft exoskeleton system that is capable of effectively supporting movement of the body while more » maintaining the comfort and discreetness of a regular garment.

« less
; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the 2019 Design of Medical Devices Conference
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Upper limb mobility impairments affect individuals at all life stages. Exoskeletons can assist in rehabilitation as well as performing Activities of Daily Living (ADL). Most commercial assistive devices still rely on rigid robotics with constrained biomechanical degrees of freedom that may even increase user exertion. Therefore, this paper discusses the iterative design and development of a novel hybrid pneumatic actuation and Shape Memory Alloy (SMA) based wearable soft exoskeleton to assist in shoulder abduction and horizontal flexion/extension movements, with integrated soft strain sensing to track shoulder joint motion. The garment development was done in two stages which involved creating (1) SMA actuators integrated with soft sensing, and (2) integrating pneumatic actuation. The final soft exoskeleton design was developed based on the insights gained from two prior prototypes in terms of wearability, usability, comfort, and functional specifications (i.e., placement and number) of the sensors and actuators. The final exoskeleton is a modular, multilayer garment which uses a hybrid and customizable actuation strategy (SMA and inflatable pneumatic bladder).
  2. Abstract Series elastic actuators (SEAs) are increasingly popular in wearable robotics due to their high fidelity closed-loop torque control capability. Therefore, it has become increasingly important to characterize its performance when used in dynamic environments. However, the conventional design approach does not fully capture the complexity of the entire exoskeleton system. These limitations stem from identifying design criteria with inadequate biomechanics data, utilizing an off-the-shelf user interface, and applying a benchtop-based proportional-integral-derivative control for actual low-level torque tracking. While this approach shows decent actuator performance, it does not consider human factors such as the dynamic back-driving nature of human-exoskeleton systems as well as soft human tissue dampening during the load transfer. Using holistic design guidelines to improve the SEA-based exoskeleton performance during dynamic locomotion, our final system has an overall mass of 4.8 kg (SEA mass of 1.1 kg) and can provide a peak joint torque of 108 Nm with a maximum velocity of 5.2 rad/s. Additionally, we present a user state-based feedforward controller to further improve the low-level torque tracking for diverse walking conditions. Our study results provide future exoskeleton designers with a foundation to further improve SEA-based exoskeleton’s torque tracking response for maximizing human-exoskeleton performance during dynamic locomotion.
  3. Abstract This review meta-analysis combines and compares the findings of previously published works in the field of soft wearable robots (SWRs) that provide active methods of actuation for assistive and augmentative purposes. A thorough investigation of major contributions in the field of an SWR is made to analyze trends in the field focused on fluidic and cable-driven systems, prevalent and successful approaches, and identify the future direction of SWRs and active actuation strategies. Types of soft actuators used in wearables are outlined, as well as general practices for fabrication methods of soft actuators and considerations for human–robot interface designs of garment-like exosuits. An overview of well-known and emerging upper body (UB)- and lower body (LB)-assistive technologies is categorized by the specific joints and degree of freedom (DoF) assisted and which actuator methodology is provided. Different use cases for SWRs are addressed, as well as implementation strategies and design applications.
  4. Current designs of powered prosthetic limbs are limited by the nearly exclusive use of DC motor technology. Soft actuators promise new design freedom to create prosthetic limbs which more closely mimic intact neuromuscular systems and improve the capabilities of prosthetic users. This work evaluates the performance of a hydraulically amplified self-healing electrostatic (HASEL) soft actuator for use in a prosthetic hand. We compare a linearly-contracting HASEL actuator, termed a Peano-HASEL, to an existing actuator (DC motor) when driving a prosthetic finger like those utilized in multi-functional prosthetic hands. A kinematic model of the prosthetic finger is developed and validated, and is used to customize a prosthetic finger that is tuned to complement the force-strain characteristics of the Peano-HASEL actuators. An analytical model is used to inform the design of an improved Peano-HASEL actuator with the goal of increasing the fingertip pinch force of the prosthetic finger. When compared to a weight-matched DC motor actuator, the Peano-HASEL and custom finger is 10.6 times faster, has 11.1 times higher bandwidth, and consumes 8.7 times less electrical energy to grasp. It reaches 91% of the maximum range of motion of the original finger. However, the DC motor actuator produces 10 times the fingertipmore »force at a relevant grip position. In this body of work, we present ways to further increase the force output of the Peano-HASEL driven prosthetic finger system, and discuss the significance of the unique properties of Peano-HASELs when applied to the field of upper-limb prosthetic design. This approach toward clinically-relevant actuator performance paired with a substantially different form-factor compared to DC motors presents new opportunities to advance the field of prosthetic limb design.« less
  5. This paper describes the control, and evaluation of a new human-scaled biped robot with liquid cooled viscoelastic actuators (VLCA). Based on the lessons learned from previous work from our team on VLCA, we present a new system design embodying a Reaction Force Sensing Series Elastic Actuator and a Force Sensing Series Elastic Actuator. These designs are aimed at reducing the size and weight of the robot’s actuation system while inheriting the advantages of our designs such as energy efficiency, torque density, impact resistance and position/force controllability. The robot design takes into consideration human-inspired kinematics and range-of-motion, while relying on foot placement to balance. In terms of actuator control, we perform a stability analysis on a Disturbance Observer designed for force control. We then evaluate various position control algorithms both in the time and frequency domains for our VLCA actuators. Having the low level baseline established, we first perform a controller evaluation on the legs using Operational Space Control. Finally, we move on to evaluating the full bipedal robot by accomplishing unsupported dynamic walking.