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  1. Robotic lower-limb exoskeletons can augment human mobility, but current systems require extensive, context-specific considerations, limiting their real-world viability. Here, we present a unified exoskeleton control framework that autonomously adapts assistance on the basis of instantaneous user joint moment estimates from a temporal convolutional network (TCN). When deployed on our hip exoskeleton, the TCN achieved an average root mean square error of 0.142 newton-meters per kilogram across 35 ambulatory conditions without any user-specific calibration. Further, the unified controller significantly reduced user metabolic cost and lower-limb positive work during level-ground and incline walking compared with walking without wearing the exoskeleton. This advancement bridges the gap between in-lab exoskeleton technology and real-world human ambulation, making exoskeleton control technology viable for a broad community.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 20, 2025
  2. Proportional myoelectric controller (PMC) has been one of the most common assistance strategies for robotic exoskeletons due to its ability to modulate assistance level directly based on the user's muscle activation. However, existing PMC strategies (static or user-adaptive) scale torque linearly with muscle activation level and fail to address complex and non-linear mapping between muscle activation and joint torque. Furthermore, previously presented adaptive PMC strategies do not allow for environmental changes (such as changes in ground slopes) and modulate the system's assistance level over many steps. In this work, we designed a novel user- and environment-adaptive PMC for a knee exoskeleton that modulates the peak assistance level based on the slope level during locomotion. We recruited nine able-bodied adults to test and compare the effects of three different PMC strategies (static, user-adaptive, and user- and environment-adaptive) on the user's metabolic cost and the knee extensor muscle activation level during load-carriage walking (6.8 kg) in three inclination settings (0°, 4.5°, and 8.5°). The results showed that only the user- and environment-adaptive PMC was effective in significantly reducing user's metabolic cost (5.8% reduction) and the knee extensor muscle activation (19% reduction) during 8.5° incline walking compared to the unpowered condition while other PMCs did not have as large of an effect. This control framework highlights the viability of implementing an assistance paradigm that can dynamically adjust to the user's biological demand, allowing for a more personalized assistance paradigm. 
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  3. 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. 
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  4. Autonomous lower-limb exoskeletons must modulate assistance based on locomotion mode (e.g., ramp or stair ascent) to adapt to the corresponding changes in human biological joint dynamics. However, current mode classification strategies for exoskeletons often require user-specific tuning, have a slow update rate, and rely on additional sensors outside of the exoskeleton sensor suite. In this study, we introduce a deep convolutional neural network-based locomotion mode classifier for hip exoskeleton applications using an open-source gait biomechanics dataset with various wearable sensors. Our approach removed the limitations of previous systems as it is 1) subject-independent (i.e., no user-specific data), 2) capable of continuously classifying for smooth and seamless mode transitions, and 3) only utilizes minimal wearable sensors native to a conventional hip exoskeleton. We optimized our model, based on several important factors contributing to overall performance, such as transition label timing, model architecture, and sensor placement, which provides a holistic understanding of mode classifier design. Our optimized DL model showed a 3.13% classification error (steady-state: 0.80 ± 0.38% and transitional: 6.49 ± 1.42%), outperforming other machine learning-based benchmarks commonly practiced in the field (p<0.05). Furthermore, our multi-modal analysis indicated that our model can maintain high performance in different settings such as unseen slopes on stairs or ramps. Thus, our study presents a novel locomotion mode framework, capable of advancing robotic exoskeleton applications toward assisting community ambulation. 
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  5. Detection of the user’s walking is a critical part of exoskeleton technology for the full automation of smooth and seamless assistance during movement transitions. Researchers have taken several approaches in developing a walk detection system by using different kinds of sensors; however, only a few solutions currently exist which can detect these transitions using only the sensors embedded on a robotic hip exoskeleton (i.e., hip encoders and a trunk IMU), which is a critical consideration for implementing these systems in-the-loop of a hip exoskeleton controller. As a solution, we explored and developed two walk detection models that implemented a finite state machine as the models switched between walking and standing states using two transition conditions: stand-to-walk and walk-to-stand. One of our models dynamically detected the user’s gait cycle using two hip encoders and an IMU; the other model only used the two hip encoders. Our models were developed using a publicly available dataset and were validated online using a wearable sensor suite that contains sensors commonly embedded on robotic hip exoskeletons. The two models were then compared with a foot contact estimation method, which served as a baseline for evaluating our models. The results of our online experiments validated the performance of our models, resulting in 274 ms and 507 ms delay time when using the HIP+IMU and HIP ONLY model, respectively. Therefore, the walk detection models established in our study achieve reliable performance under multiple locomotive contexts without the need for manual tuning or sensors additional to those commonly implemented on robotic hip exoskeletons. 
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  6. Step length is a critical gait parameter that allows a quantitative assessment of gait asymmetry. Gait asymmetry can lead to many potential health threats such as joint degeneration, difficult balance control, and gait inefficiency. Therefore, accurate step length estimation is essential to understand gait asymmetry and provide appropriate clinical interventions or gait training programs. The conventional method for step length measurement relies on using foot-mounted inertial measurement units (IMUs). However, this may not be suitable for real-world applications due to sensor signal drift and the potential obtrusiveness of using distal sensors. To overcome this challenge, we propose a deep convolutional neural network-based step length estimation using only proximal wearable sensors (hip goniometer, trunk IMU, and thigh IMU) capable of generalizing to various walking speeds. To evaluate this approach, we utilized treadmill data collected from sixteen able-bodied subjects at different walking speeds. We tested our optimized model on the overground walking data. Our CNN model estimated the step length with an average mean absolute error of 2.89 ± 0.89 cm across all subjects and walking speeds. Since wearable sensors and CNN models are easily deployable in real-time, our study findings can provide personalized real-time step length monitoring in wearable assistive devices and gait training programs. 
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  7. null (Ed.)