Satellite Technology Feature Article
New Robotic Exoskeleton from NASA and IHMC can have Applications here on Earth
By Frank Griffin, TMCnet Contributing Writer
Weightless environments can cause muscle deterioration and bone loss if a human stays in them for an extended amount of time. This is one of the reasons astronauts are periodically removed from the International Space Station. As NASA and other space agencies look toward Mars for the next frontier in manned space exploration they have to find solutions to prevent any damage the body will experience. One of the ways to prevent muscle and bone loss in space is by using robotic exoskeletons. These devices are able to provide resistance when worn by the astronauts which simulate the earth’s gravity. The same resistance the device uses to exercise the muscles of the astronaut can eventually be used to help paraplegics and other patients support their weight so they can walk.
Image via Shutterstock
The X1 robotic exoskeleton is the result of collaboration between NASA, The Florida Institute for Human Machine Cognition (IHMC) of Pensacola, Florida as well as help form the Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston. The project is a spinoff from the Robonaut2 project which is the first humanoid robot in space, and as of know it is assigned on the International Space Station working with astronauts.
The x1 is a 57-pound robot a person can wear over their body to help or restrain movement in the leg joints. When the device is in the restrain mode, it is used just as an in-space exercise equipment to create resistance against leg movements. The technology can be used here on earth in reverse to support individuals that don’t have the ability to support their own weight due to nerve damage or muscle deterioration disorders such as Muscular Dystrophy.“Robotics is playing a key role aboard the International Space Station and will be critical in our future human exploration of deep space. What’s extraordinary about space technology and our world with projects like Robonaut are the unexpected possibilities space tech spinoffs may have right here on Earth. It’s exciting to see a NASA-developed technology might one day help people with serious ambulatory needs to begin to walk again, or even walk for the first time. That’s the sort of return on investment NASA is proud to give back to America and the world,” said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA’s Space Technology Program.
The X1 is worn over each leg with a harness reaching up the back and around the shoulders. It has 10 motorized and passive degrees of freedom or joints. Four joints at the hip and knees are motorized and the six remaining joints are passive, allowing the user to sidestep, turn, point and flex the foot. Adjustment points in the device make it possible to use it in many different applications. Currently it is in the R&D phase, primarily focused on space exploration.
Edited by Brooke Neuman