An Ultra-Lightweight Orthotic Exoskeleton
Floor Location : M 104 N
I built an orthotic exoskeleton, a suit that people with disabilities can wear to supplement the lost movement of their limbs due to conditions like osteoarthritis, muscular atrophy and dystrophy and muscle weakness after an injury recovery. The orthotic exoskeleton I built this year is a continuation from another product, which was a prototype exoskeleton that only augmented the strength of the lower extremities and used fabrics as a frame for the whole suit. The driving force for this project was my sister, who at the age of four, was a victim of a car accident and damaged her spinal cord. This spinal cord injury resulted in her being paralyzed from the neck down, and in her not being able to walk or breathe without life support. I decided to build this orthotic exoskeleton from scratch, which not only augments the user’s own strength but can be used for therapeutic purposes like rehabilitation to supplement lost strength and function in the limbs. The exoskeleton is fully autonomous and uses sensors to detect the motion of the user. The suit uses artificial pneumatic muscles to allow the user to move with ease and full strength. The entire suit consists of a pressure and muscle sensor. The sensors communicate with the micro-controller so whenever the user bends his or her knees or steps on a solid surface, the sensors tell the solenoid valve to allow pressurized air to flow into the artificial muscles. In order to give the artificial muscles a structure and mechanism around which to contract, custom designed metal mechanisms made from Aluminium-6061-T6 and orthotic braces were used. As well, because this suit has braces that are used for conditions like osteoarthritis and offers knee support, there are many other applications of this suit, including for people who have muscle weakness due to osteoarthritis, muscular dystrophy and atrophy. Furthermore, my exoskeleton is very light weight and consumes very low energy because the exoskeleton utilizes pressurized air to contract the pneumatic muscles. After testing the the exoskeleton with the artificial muscles and the braces and mechanism, I saw that the exoskeleton picks up a significant amount of the user’s leg’s weight and its own weight as well.