Published October 17, 2012
Iron Man's got nothing on NASA, it seems.
Evolved from Robonaut 2’s technology and the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition's Mina exoskeleton, the 57-pound wearable robot X1 can assist or inhibit movement in leg joints. In space, it could be a sort of exercise machine using the inhibit mode to resist the astronaut’s leg movement. On the ground, X1 could help some walk for the first time, supporting movement rather than resisting it.
In both cases, it's remarkable.
The rapidly developed spinoff project X1 is worn over the legs with a harness that comes up the user’s back and around his or her shoulders. Currently, there are four motorized joints at the hips and the knees with ten-degree range. In addition, there are six passive joints to turn, point, flex and sidestep.
IHMC is most interested in assisted walking, and preliminary studies are already underway. By combining the company’s algorithms for walking with NASA’s tech, X1 can climb stairs and assist walking over varied terrain.
From rehabilitation to modifying gait and offloading heavy weight, the range of applications is nothing short of amazing.
At the International Space Station, robotics are already in use and they will continue to be important for deep space exploration. For astronauts on the surface of distant planets, X1 could provide Iron Man strength for reduced gravity environments.
As a fitness device, X1 could also improve crew health both aboard the space station and during future long-duration missions to other planets.
To maintain health in microgravity, exercises are essential; NASA hopes X1 could keep astronauts moving while not using up the limited available space or weight.
X1 can measure, record and stream back data in real-time to flight controllers on Earth so that doctors can study the crew's exercise regimen.
IHMC preliminary studies have yielded promising results indicating X1 is more comfortable, more readily adjustable, and easier to put on than previous exoskeletons.
Future plans include improving the X1 design and adding additional active joints like ankle and hip, further widening applications for X1.
Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.