New NASA robot could help paraplegics walk

NASA, Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition look at space, health uses for X1 robot

NASA said today it has helped develop a 57-lb robotic exoskeleton that a person could wear over his or her body either to assist or inhibit movement in leg joints.

The X1 was derived from NASA and General Motors Robonaut 2 project and the could find applications as an in-space exercise machine to supply resistance against leg movement more importantly as a way to help some individuals walk for the first time.

NASA  teamed with The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) of Pensacola, Fla., and engineers from Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston to develop X1 which is worn over the legs with a harness that reaches up the back and around the shoulders, X1 has 10 degrees of freedom, or joints -- four motorized joints at the hips and the knees, and six passive joints that allow for sidestepping, turning and pointing, and flexing a foot, NASA said.   

Using NASA technology and walking algorithms developed at IHMC, X1 has the potential to produce high torques to allow for assisted walking over varied terrain, as well as stair climbing.

X1 also has multiple adjustment points, allowing the X1 to be used in many different ways including rehabilitation, gait modification and offloading large amounts of weight from the wearer. Preliminary studies by IHMC have shown X1 to be more comfortable, easier to adjust, and easier to put on than older exoskeleton devices. Researchers plan on improving on the X1 design, adding more active joints to areas such as the ankle and hip, increasing the potential uses for the device, NASA said..

NASA said it is looking at the potential for the X1 as an exercise device to improve crew health both aboard the space station and during future long-duration missions to an asteroid or Mars. "Without taking up valuable space or weight during missions, X1 could replicate common crew exercises, which are vital to keeping astronauts healthy in microgravity. In addition, the device has the ability to measure, record and stream back in real-time data to flight controllers on Earth, giving doctors better insight into the crew's exercise," NASA stated. 

Earlier this year NASA teamed with General Motors to build a robotic glove humans can use to prevent or reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries. The Human Grasp Assist device, also known as the K-glove or Robo-Glove, also resulted from GM and NASA's Robonaut 2 project, which sent the first human-like robot into space where it is now lives on the International Space Station.

Robonaut 2 is a 300lb robot  that can use its hands to do work beyond the scope of prior humanoid machines. It is a strong bot in that it can lift, not just hold, a 20-pound weight (about four times heavier than what other dexterous robots can handle) both near and away from its body, NASA stated.

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