What is an Exoskeleton?

Inspired by the protective support utilized by various species from cockroaches to crabs, the robotic exoskeleton serves to provide that same strength and support to people. The two main purposes of the exoskeleton are for additional strength and endurance as well as spinal cord rehabilitation. The result is a product that adds to one’s strength, flexibility, mobility, and can reduce strain (Ekso Bionics 2020). This development can help anyone from soldiers to care workers to those rehabilitating.

 

History Timeline of Exoskeletons:

1890 AD
1890 AD

First Exoskeleton by Russian Engineer Nicholas Vagin

 

The earliest-known exoskeleton-like device was made by the Russian engineer Nicholas Yagin. These were created in 1890 within the context of Napoleon and under the reign of Alexander III. The energy stored in compressed gas bags were used to assist movement. (Ekso Bionics). 

 

1970 AD
1970 AD

First Exoskeletons for Gait Assistance by the Mihajlo Pupil Institute Serbia and University of Wisconsin-Madison

 

From 476 to 1000 AD, development of prostheses were categorized by peg legs and hand hooks. Knights used prosthesis for shields and fit stirrups (AALOS 2022).

During the Renaissance period (1400s to 1700s), prostheses were made of copper, iron, steel, and wood. In 1508, Gotz Von Berlinchen made the first pair of advanced iron hands called the Iron Hand of Knight. In 1529, Ambroise Parè introduced modern amputation procedures (1529) to the medical community and made prostheses (1536) for upper and lower-extremity amputees. “Ambroise Paré was one of the first military surgeons to encourage primary amputation for the treatment for gunshot wounds; he was also one of the first to choose an amputation site well above the gangrenous area” (Hernigou). Prior, cauterisation, the closing of wound using burned (in this case boiling oil), caused infection and heamorrhage until Paré introduced “the use of ligatures, using a thread-like or wire material to constrict a patient’s blood vessels” (Hernigou).

1966
1966

Stunted Limbs Extension Prosthesis

At the beginning of the 20th century came metal limbs. In 1919, the introduction of a light copper-aluminum alloy made the production of a lighter, less bulky leg possible.

The refashioning of the knee socket for amputees allowed for artificial legs with bending knee joints to be widely distributed to amputees (Science Museum Group). Despite earlier developments of lighter metal prosthetics, most prosthetics after World War 2 in 1945 were still made of wood and leather. The combination was heavy, ugly, and also unhygienic.

For those with stunted limbs, the extension prosthesis created in 1966 attached one piece of aluminum legs using pelvic bands (UPMC 2015).

2005 AD
2005 AD

Ottobock Knee Shin System C-Leg

The Quantum Leap of the 21st century began with the efforts of Ottobock Healthcare. The introduction of the microprocessor controlled knee shin system C-Leg in the US drove production and technological advancement (NIH 2005). This shift manifested in the focus on prioritizing high-performance, lightweight running blades, responsible legs, and motorized hands using sensors and microprocessors. 

More about Ottoblock and AI
2006 & 2009 AD
2006 & 2009 AD

First Bionic Foot and Knee

In 2006, the first bionic foot used artificial intelligence to adjust to different ground surfaces and changes in activity. The first bionic knee was developed in 2009 and was  a motor-powered (TimeToast). The way in which it worked is that the artificial intelligence closely simulates human muscle activity, allowing the wearer to almost seamlessly adjust to differing gradients when climbing stairs

2011 AD
2011 AD

First use of 3D-Printing for Prothesis

The development of 3D printing prosthetics came from a need for cheaper prosthetics with a faster turn around. The World Health Organization says that there is a shortage of 40,000 trained prosthetists in poorer countries (BBC Science 2017). Scientists attempted to use earl 3D printing technology from 1990-1999 to create prosthetics. Though they successfully created organs and dental implants, it was not until 2011 that there was a significant break through. American artist, Ivan Owen can be attributed with creating the first 3D printed prosthetic hand. The project was to help a little boy whose mom made a request to Owen after seeing his steampunk mechanical hand on a video online. A properly manufactured prosthetic can last from 3-5 years at a fifth of the cost of a normal prosthetic ($2,000 versus $395), reducing a 3-6 week process to only a single day. 

Owen’s development has led to programs like Enabling the Future, a network with 7,000 members in dozens of countries and access to 2,000 printers for those who need it. After hearing about this project, Jorge Zuniga, a research scientist of biomechanics at the University of Nebraska in Omaha with a son of his own, developed Cyborg Beast. Backed by the University of Nebraska’s biomechanics department, the group developed futuristic-looking low-cost prosthetic hands. There are 500 Cyborg Beasts designs in worldwide use having been downloaded almost 50,000 times. Zuniga even took this project to his native Chile, running a pediatric orthopedic 3D-printing laboratory. He next plans to move to Nigeria (XOMetry 2022).

More about 3D-Printing

What is an Exoskeleton?

Inspired by the protective support utilized by various species from cockroaches to crabs, the robotic exoskeleton serves to provide that same strength and support to people. The two main purposes of the exoskeleton are for additional strength and endurance as well as spinal cord rehabilitation. The result is a product that adds to one’s strength, flexibility, mobility, and can reduce strain (Ekso Bionics 2020). This development can help anyone from soldiers to care workers to those rehabilitating.

 

Earliest/Late 1900s Developments

The earliest-known exoskeleton-like device was made by the Russian engineer Nicholas Yagin. These were created in 1890 within the context of Napoleon and under the reign of Alexander III. The energy stored in compressed gas bags were used to assist movement. (Ekso Bionics). In 1965, the first large full-body exoskeleton was created. Within the context of the Vietnam War in the 60s, the Hardiman was created to lift heavy objects. (EduExo 2018)

 

(Medium 2019) First Exoskeleton

 

(General Electric 1965) Hardiman

Late 1900s continued

In 1917, the Pedomotor was created by US inventor Leslie C. Kelley. In 1985, the Pitman, a powered suit of armor for infantrymen was created by an engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory. In 1986, the Lifesuit was created by Monty Reed as he had broken his back.

“At about the same time, early active exoskeletons and humanoid robots were developed at the Mihajlo Pupin Institute in Yugoslavia by a team led by Prof. Miomir Vukobratović.[11] Legged locomotion systems were developed first, with the goal of assisting in the rehabilitation of paraplegics. In the course of developing active exoskeletons, the Institute also developed theory to aid in the analysis and control of the human gait. Some of this work informed the development of modern high-performance humanoid robots.[12] In 1972, (within the context of the Cold War,) an active exoskeleton for rehabilitation of paraplegics that was pneumatically powered and electronically programmed was tested at Belgrade Orthopedic Clinic.” (Wikiwand 2022)

 

(Exoskeleton Suits 2007) Lifesuit

 

(Ultralife Corporation 2020) Pedomotor

Early 2000s

In 2001, the Gait rehabilitation exoskeleton Lokomat was created. It was used in hospitals and rehabilitation centers for stroke and spinal cord injured patients. In 2013, the hocoma Ag (company behind Lokomat) announced the shipment of their 500th device.

Near end of 1st decade – Raytheon XOS exoskeleton, which is a full body exoskeleton, and Lockheed Martin’s “Human Universal Load Carrier” that supports carrying of heavy backpack. This was specifically developed in a military context for soldiers to carry a heavier load while transporting. (EduExo 2018) The beginning of the 2010s also marked the end of the Iraq War for the US.

 

Lokomat (Hocoma 2022)

 

Raytheon XOS 2 (Army Technology 2022)

2010s

In the 2010s, several gait assistance and restoration exoskeletons introduced to market. This allows paraplegic users to leave their wheelchair and walk upright. An example is the Rewalk Robotics & Indigo Skeleton developed by Parker Hannifin. The Wyss institute at Harvard University developed similar exosuits. The advent and end of countless wars had left a strong need for rehabilitation and movement technology. (SWHelper 2022)

 

Rewalk Personal Exoskeleton (Rewalk 2022)

Asia’s Modern Developments (Commercially Sold)

“Cyberdyne Corp. is a leader within Japan’s exoskeleton field. In 2004, the company launched its first exoskeleton: “HAL-3” (HAL stands for “Hybrid Assisted Leg”). It was designed to help people with lower-body problems to carry a heavier load. Since then, Cyberdyne has released a number of updates to HAL, including a new version of the “HAL Lumbar Type for Labor Support” late last year.” The two categorical purposes all models fall into is either a larger suit with a sensor system to support spinal cord training or a waist only suit that helps with heavy lifting.

Last year, Cyberdyne reported a 30% increase in sales, attributed to updated models. As of late 2016, Japanese public health insurance began covering medical treatment with Cyberdyne’s exoskeletons, an important development for growing adoption of exoskeleton technology in Asia.

In late 2015, Mitsubishi partnered with the Japan Atomic Power Company to develop an exoskeleton for nuclear disasters. It is a Power Assist Suit (PAS) and uses a “hip-knee-ankle” design that is standard fare within the exoskeleton industry. In 2016, Tatsumi Shokai Logistics unveiled an exoskeleton to assist elderly workers in lifting and moving heavy. It can lift more than 89 kilograms (196 lb.) and was designed for people working in rural areas. Japan-based Tatsumi invested in the technology because many of its workers are older. (Robotic Business Review 2018)

 

Cyberdene (ISO 2014)

Asia’s Modern Developments Continued

Dexta Robotics is one of the few Chinese companies that have developed significant exoskeleton systems. It developed an exoskeleton glove called Dexmo. It is designed to help a user “feel” an object in virtual reality or to control a robot wirelessly. Perhaps, Dexta can also deploy Dexmo to help disabled people who have nerve damage in their fingers and hand.

The Center for Robotics at University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, based in Chengdu, announced in 2016 that it would put its exoskeleton into production. Unveiled in 2010, their exoskeleton was designed to help disabled people walk by latching onto the waist and legs of the individual wearing it. This would help for physical therapy and the process by which people would gradually redevelop their muscle strength and stability.

The Cloud Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, part of Shandong University, has also developed a robot to help the elderly. While not an exoskeleton, the “intelligent robot” can help elderly people keep track of changes in their home, like if there is an uninvited guest or a gas leak. Could Shandong University launch an exoskeleton for the elderly and disabled next?” (Robotic Business Review 2018)

 

Dexmo (Solvelight Robotics 2016)

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