NASA has recently unveiled a robotic exoskeleton that they have created to help astronauts remain healthy while in space. Named the X1 robotic exoskeleton, the project was a spinoff of NASA’s Robonaut 2 project. The designers think that the exoskeleton will eventually be usable on Earth as a way to assist paraplegics in walking.
The project was a joint development of NASA, The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) of Pensacola, Fla., and engineers from Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston. The device is designed for a human to wear over their body either assisting or inhibiting joint movement, and weighs about 57lbs.
Designed primarily to inhibit the movement of astronauts and provide resistance that should keep their muscular and connective system healthy, The device can also be used to support movement in the same way that exoskeletons being developed by the US military can.
The structure 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. There also are multiple adjustment points, allowing the X1 to be used in many different ways.”
“X1 currently is in a research and development phase, where the primary focus is design, evaluation and improvement of the technology. NASA is examining 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 feedback on the impact of the crew’s exercise regimen.”
Once this technology has been developed more, it’s thought that X1 will also be able to provide a “robotic power boost to astronauts as they work on the surface of distant planetary bodies. Coupled with a spacesuit, X1 could provide additional force when needed during surface exploration, improving the ability to walk in a reduced gravity environment, providing even more bang for its small bulk.”
The IHMC is also interested in and has started developing and the X1 as an ‘assistive walking device.’ after combining the X1 with some walking algorithms developed at the IMHC, it’s been found that it has the ability to produce ‘high torques’ assisting in movement over bumpy terrain and climbing stairs.
“The potential of X1 extends to other applications, 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 previous exoskeleton devices. Researchers plan on improving on the X1 design, adding more active joints to areas such as the ankle and hip, which will, in turn, increase the potential uses for the device.”
The X1project is funded by NASA’s Game Changing Development Program, part of NASA’s Space Technology Program. Which is dedicated to the development and maturation of next generation space exploration.
Image Credits: Robert Markowitz