Researchers at the ETH Zurich’s Sensory Lab have successfully devised a prototype of a wearable, textile exomuscle. Other exoskeleton solutions are available, but they tend to be very expensive. The team felt the need for something that is more pocket friendly. Marie Georgarakis, a former doctoral student at ETH Zurich lab, went ahead with the execution of the idea. 

The appliance is made of soft wearable fabric and resembles a vest with a cuff for the upper arms. It works as an extra support muscle layer targeting soft tissues. The aim is to strengthen the upper body in people with limited mobility. The exoskeleton shirt also helps enhance endurance. 

The device consists of a small box with all the technical parts. The sensors in the fabric detect the movement’s purpose and the required force. A motor in the box retracts the cable, pulling it to work as a tendon parallel to the wearer’s muscle. This results in the intended motion. The device provides flexibility to the user and can be customized for an individual’s needs. 

The first trial of the prototype with 12 participants included ten healthy individuals, one person with muscular dystrophy, and one with spinal cord injury. The results are encouraging. All individuals were able to lift their arms and effortlessly perform routine functions. An enhanced endurance was seen in about one-third of the healthy participants. At the same time, the participant with muscular dystrophy experienced a 60% increase in endurance. The participant with spinal cord injury repeated the exercise three times with absolute ease.

The device is still in its testing phase. It needs to be further reduced in size to go under one’s clothing. It will take some time before the exoskeleton hits the market. The project’s researchers are also collaborating with other groups in the lab to make similar products. The aim is to continue implementing ideas to make people with restricted mobility more active in their lives.