Skip to main content

One-size-fits-all exosuits don’t work: we need exo-tailoring

One-size-fits-all exosuits don’t work: we need exo-tailoring

Share this story

The ankle exoskeleton used in the new research reduced the energy expended by wearers by 24 percent.
The ankle exoskeleton used in the new research reduced the energy expended by wearers by 24 percent.
Photo by Steve Collins

Exoskeletons can be incredibly useful, giving people extra strength or the ability to move freely when injured or disabled. But augmented performance comes at a cost, and users usually have to put in more effort while wearing these prosthetics. Scientists are trying to fix this: they have developed a new system that actively saves the user’s energy by adjusting the exoskeleton to their body’s natural movement.

Now, the idea that exoskeletons consume additional energy may seem a bit counterintuitive. After all, aren’t they supposed to make things easier? According to biomechanist Juanjuan Zhang, who led this latest research at Carnegie Mellon University, the problem is that exoskeletons are built on a one-size-fits-all system, and not tailored to the individual. This means users often fight against them unconsciously, or just find them uncomfortable to wear. This takes up energy.

“some of us try to fight against the exoskeleton.”

“In theory they’re giving you an extra push, so you should be using less of your own energy. But the problem is that humans are so different from one to another, and some of us actually try to fight against the exoskeleton,” Zhang tells The Verge. “But the difficulty is not the device, it’s the fact that the human body is so complicated.” 

The solution proposed by Zhang and her team in a paper published in Science today is an algorithm that automatically adjusts the exoskeleton to the wearer’s body. The researchers tested their method with an ankle exoskeleton designed to help volunteers walk more easily. The exoskeleton clips onto the shin and foot, with a motor and a pulley system lifting up the back of the heel with every step.

The amount of energy the volunteers expended was measured by monitoring their breathing, and the software automatically tweaked the exoskeleton to see what movement helped most. For example, it would try lifting the heel earlier or later during a step, or applying more or less energy, to see what suited the wearer.

This diagram shows how the exoskeleton’s mechanism was adjusted. The lines show when during a step the motor was activated, and how strong it pulled on the heel.
This diagram shows how the exoskeleton’s mechanism was adjusted. The lines show when during a step the motor was activated, and how strong it pulled on the heel.
Image: Science / Zhang et al

This sort of personalization has been done in the past, but, according to an accompanying editorial published in Science, never so quickly or effectively. Usually changes to an exoskeleton have to be made by hand, with researchers gathering data, then tweaking, then testing again. But in just an hour, Zhang and her team were able to reduce the energy each volunteer expended while walking by an average of 24 percent. (That’s compared to walking with the exoskeleton powered off.)

The research is limited in some ways. For example, only four different factors were being adjusted in the ankle exoskeleton. For full-leg or full-body exoskeletons, there would be many more constraints to think of, and this would take more time and computing power to process.

However, says Zhang, her basic method is sound, and should scale up with the right adjustments. Then, she says, it’ll be much easier to build effective and useful exoskeletons for more people: “What we want is a personalized device for everybody.”

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed An hour ago Dimorphos didn’t even see it coming

T
Thomas RickerAn hour ago
Check out this delightful DART Easter egg.

Just Google for “NASA DART.” You’re welcome.


R
Twitter
Richard Lawler12:00 AM UTC
A direct strike at 14,000 mph.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) scored a hit on the asteroid Dimorphos, but as Mary Beth Griggs explains, the real science work is just beginning.

Now planetary scientists will wait to see how the impact changed the asteroid’s orbit, and to download pictures from DART’s LICIACube satellite which had a front-row seat to the crash.


M
The Verge
We’re about an hour away from a space crash.

At 7:14PM ET, a NASA spacecraft is going to smash into an asteroid! Coverage of the collision — called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test — is now live.


Asian America learns how to hit back

The desperate, confused, righteous campaign to stop Asian hate

Esther WangSep 26
E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 26
There’s a surprise in the sky tonight.

Jupiter will be about 367 million miles away from Earth this evening. While that may seem like a long way, it’s the closest it’s been to our home planet since 1963.

During this time, Jupiter will be visible to the naked eye (but binoculars can help). You can check where and when you can get a glimpse of the gas giant from this website.


E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 26
Missing classic Mario?

One fan, who goes by the name Metroid Mike 64 on Twitter, just built a full-on 2D Mario game inside Super Mario Maker 2 complete with 40 levels and eight worlds.

Looking at the gameplay shared on Twitter is enough to make me want to break out my SNES, or at least buy Super Mario Maker 2 so I can play this epic retro revamp.


R
External Link
Russell BrandomSep 26
The US might still force TikTok into a data security deal with Oracle.

The New York Times says the White House is still working on TikTok’s Trump-era data security deal, which has been in a weird limbo for nearly two years now. The terms are basically the same: Oracle plays babysitter but the app doesn’t get banned. Maybe it will happen now, though?


R
Youtube
Richard LawlerSep 26
Don’t miss this dive into Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion Pinocchio flick.

Andrew Webster and Charles Pulliam-Moore covered Netflix’s Tudum reveals (yes, it’s going to keep using that brand name) over the weekend as the streamer showed off things that haven’t been canceled yet.

Beyond The Way of the Househusband season two news and timing information about two The Witcher projects, you should make time for this incredible behind-the-scenes video showing the process of making Pinocchio.


R
External Link
Russell BrandomSep 26
Edward Snowden has been granted Russian citizenship.

The NSA whistleblower has been living in Russia for the 9 years — first as a refugee, then on a series of temporary residency permits. He applied for Russian citizenship in November 2020, but has said he won’t renounce his status as a U.S. citizen.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 26
Netflix’s gaming bet gets even bigger.

Even though fewer than one percent of Netflix subscribers have tried its mobile games, Netflix just opened up another studio in Finland after acquiring the Helsinki-based Next Games earlier this year.

The former vice president of Zynga Games, Marko Lastikka, will serve as the studio director. His track record includes working on SimCity BuildIt for EA and FarmVille 3.


A
External Link
Vietnam’s EV aspirant is giving big Potemkin village vibes

Idle equipment, absent workers, deserted villages, an empty swimming pool. VinFast is Vietnam’s answer to Tesla, with the goal of making 1 million EVs in the next 5-6 years to sell to customers US, Canada and Europe. With these lofty goals, the company invited a bunch of social media influencers, as well as some auto journalists, on a “a four-day, multicity extravaganza” that seemed more weird than convincing, according to Bloomberg.


J
James VincentSep 26
Today, 39 years ago, the world didn’t end.

And it’s thanks to one man: Stanislav Petrov, a USSR military officer who, on September 26th, 1983, took the decision not to launch a retaliatory nuclear attack against the US. Petrov correctly guessed that satellite readings showing inbound nukes were faulty, and so likely saved the world from nuclear war. As journalist Tom Chivers put it on Twitter, “Happy Stanislav Petrov Day to those who celebrate!” Read more about Petrov’s life here.


Soviet Colonel who prevented 1983 nuclear response
Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images
J
The Verge
James VincentSep 26
Deepfakes were made for Disney.

You might have seen the news this weekend that the voice of James Earl Jones is being cloned using AI so his performance as Darth Vader in Star Wars can live on forever.

Reading the story, it struck me how perfect deepfakes are for Disney — a company that profits from original characters, fans' nostalgia, and an uncanny ability to twist copyright law to its liking. And now, with deepfakes, Disney’s most iconic performances will live on forever, ensuring the magic never dies.


E
External Link
Hurricane Fiona ratcheted up tensions about crypto bros in Puerto Rico.

“An official emergency has been declared, which means in the tax program, your physical presence time is suspended,” a crypto investor posted on TikTok. “So I am headed out of the island.” Perhaps predictably, locals are furious.


R
The Verge
Richard LawlerSep 26
Teen hacking suspect linked to GTA 6 leak and Uber security breach charged in London.

City of London police tweeted Saturday that the teenager arrested on suspicion of hacking has been charged with “two counts of breach of bail conditions and two counts of computer misuse.”

They haven’t confirmed any connection with the GTA 6 leak or Uber hack, but the details line up with those incidents, as well as a suspect arrested this spring for the Lapsus$ breaches.