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  1. Mobility disabilities are prominent in society with wide-ranging deficits, motivating modular, partial-assist, lower-limb exoskeletons for this heterogeneous population. This paper introduces the Modular Backdrivable Lower-limb Unloading Exoskeleton (M-BLUE), which implements high torque, low mechanical impedance actuators on commercial orthoses with sheet metal modifications to produce a variety of hip- and/or knee-assisting configurations. Benchtop system identification verifies the desirable backdrive properties of the actuator, and allows for torque prediction within 0.4 Nm. An able-bodied human subject experiment demonstrates that three unilateral configurations of M-BLUE (hip only, knee only, and hip-knee) with a simple gravity compensation controller can reduce muscle EMG readingsmore »in a lifting and lowering task relative to the bare condition. Reductions in mean muscular effort and peak muscle activation were seen across the primary squat musculature (excluding biceps femoris), demonstrating the potential to reduce fatigue leading to poor lifting posture. These promising results motivate applications of M-BLUE to additional populations, and the expansion of M-BLUE to bilateral and ankle configurations.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2023
  2. This paper presents the design and validation of a backdrivable powered knee orthosis for partial assistance of lower-limb musculature, which aims to facilitate daily activities in individuals with musculoskeletal disorders. The actuator design is guided by design principles that prioritize backdrivability, output torque, and compactness. First, we show that increasing the motor diameter while reducing the gear ratio for a fixed output torque ultimately reduces the reflected inertia (and thus backdrive torque). We also identify a tradeoff with actuator torque density that can be addressed by improving the motor's thermal environment, motivating our design of a custom Brushless DC motormore »with encapsulated windings. Finally, by designing a 7:1 planetary gearset directly into the stator, the actuator has a high package factor that reduces size and weight. Benchtop tests verify that the custom actuator can produce at least 23.9 Nm peak torque and 12.78 Nm continuous torque, yet has less than 2.68 Nm backdrive torque during walking conditions. Able-bodied human subjects experiments (N=3) demonstrate reduced quadriceps activation with bilateral orthosis assistance during lifting-lowering, sit-to-stand, and stair climbing. The minimal transmission also produces negligible acoustic noise.« less
  3. This paper presents the design and implementation of a novel multi-activity control strategy for a backdrivable knee-ankle exoskeleton. Traditionally, exoskeletons have used trajectory-based control of highly geared actuators for complete motion assistance. In contrast, we develop a potential energy shaping controller with ground reaction force (GRF) feedback that facilitates multi-activity assistance from a backdrivable exoskeleton without prescribing pre-defined kinematics. Although potential energy shaping was previously implemented in an exoskeleton to reduce the user’s perceived gravity, this model-based approach assumes the stance leg is fully loaded with the weight of the user, resulting in excessive control torques as weight transfers tomore »the contralateral leg during double support. The presented approach uses GRF feedback to taper the torque control output for any activity involving multiple supports, leading to a closer match with normative joint moments in simulations based on pre-recorded human data during level walking. To implement this strategy, we present a custom foot force sensor that provides GRF feedback to the previously designed exoskeleton. Finally, results from an able-bodied human subject experiment demonstrate that the exoskeleton is able to reduce muscular activation of the primary muscles related to the knee and ankle joints during sit-to-stand, stand-to-sit, level walking, and stair climbing.« less
  4. In this article, we present the design of a powered knee–ankle prosthetic leg, which implements high-torque actuators with low-reduction transmissions. The transmission coupled with a high-torque and low-speed motor creates an actuator with low mechanical impedance and high backdrivability. This style of actuation presents several possible benefits over modern actuation styles in emerging robotic prosthetic legs, which include free-swinging knee motion, compliance with the ground, negligible unmodeled actuator dynamics, less acoustic noise, and power regeneration. Benchtop tests establish that both joints can be backdriven by small torques ( ∼ 1–3 N ⋅ m) and confirm the small reflected inertia. Impedancemore »control tests prove that the intrinsic impedance and unmodeled dynamics of the actuator are sufficiently small to control joint impedance without torque feedback or lengthy tuning trials. Walking experiments validate performance under the designed loading conditions with minimal tuning. Finally, the regenerative abilities, low friction, and small reflected inertia of the presented actuators reduced power consumption and acoustic noise compared to state-of-the-art powered legs.« less
  5. This paper presents the mechatronic design and initial validation of a partial-assist knee orthosis for individuals with musculoskeletal disorders, e.g., knee osteoarthritis and lower back pain. This orthosis utilizes a quasi-direct drive actuator with a low-ratio transmission (7:1) to greatly reduce the reflected inertia for high backdrivability. To provide meaningful assistance, a custom Brushless DC (BLDC) motor is designed with encapsulated windings to improve the motor’s thermal environment and thus its continuous torque output. The 2.69 kg orthosis is constructed from all custom-made components with a high package factor for lighter weight and a more compact size. The combination ofmore »compactness, backdrivability, and torque output enables the orthosis to provide partial assistance without obstructing the natural movement of the user. Several benchtop tests verify the actuator’s capabilities, and a human subject experiment demonstrates reduced quadriceps muscle activation when assisted during a repetitive lifting and lowering task.« less