We’ve written about exoskeleton robotics as means of providing assistance to the injured and the infirm, but strapping on a metal framework may be more than some patients want or need. A group at the University of Bristol’s Department of Engineering and Mathematics has a vision for a less intrusive solution: soft robotic clothing.
Led by Dr. Jonathan Rossiter, the concept relies on artificial muscles woven right into the fabric. These polymer-based materials can contract and change shape, exerting significant force in the process. The idea is that the clothing would become a second skin that could either augment or even replace the function of the patient’s natural muscles. Sensors could detect when movement is desired, and in what direction. As a result, it could help the elderly be seated or rise up again without assistance, or even go up and down stairs. It could also help patients with debilitating injuries or diseases.
The monitoring function of the sensors could also detect when the patient is off balance and at risk of falling. The clothing could take corrective action automatically, reducing the chance of injury. The team — along with researchers from other UK universities — has received a 2 million Pound grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to construct and test two demonstrator devices by 2018.