Este artigo faz parte de uma série de artigos redigidos por colaboradores do Departamento de Ensino e Ação Social da ANEEB. Apoie o autor lendo o artigo no seu LinkedIn.

Aging of the population is one of the most critical challenges in a near future, characterized by a low birth rate and long-life expectation, especially in industrialized societies.40 years from now, nearly 35% of the European population will be over 60 years old, resulting in the urgency to provide solutions that enable our aging society to remain active, creative, productive, and, above all, independent.

Furthermore, in addiction to age-related pathologies, many people who have a physical disability such as stroke, cerebral palsy, or a spinal cord injury due to an accident or disease could benefit from rehabilitation. However, effective rehabilitation requires long, intense, costly, and task-based therapy sessions, leading people with physical disabilities to not receive optimal healthcare, limiting the quality of their everyday lives.

In contrast, wearable devices and orthosis can augment the physical abilities of able-bodied humans to enhance their performance in an industrial, sporting, civil or military environment while it might be able to, simultaneously, acquire vital data signals, such as heart rate, number of steps, body temperature, blood pressure, or movement.

Taking a big role in increasing the quality of life of healthy or disabled people, prosthetic artifacts and artificial objects are conceived as a functional extension of the organism, therefore it is possible to extend the concept of functionality beyond the natural capacities of the organism with a certain symbolic relationship.

Among all the assistive devices springing up, wearable robots can be used to either augment, train, or supplement human motor function. Examples of such robots are exoskeletons, bionic prosthesis, exosuits, and body worn collaborative robots.

A wearable robotic device is generally anthropomorphic, prepared to be comfortably worn by its user. Given the close interaction with the user, the robot should be light-weight and take in account the user’s joints range of motion and degrees of freedom, its morphology, and kinematics in order to provide a proper physical human-robot interface.

Furthermore, the actuation and control of the robot should allow the user to implement their own movement without hindrances while receiving assistance safely. In this framework, a very efficient and often adopted design methodology foresees the endowing of a mechanical compliance between the exoskeleton actuators and the user/robot interface.

Many wearable robotics systems can be found in the current state-of-art, presenting an enormous variability in mechatronic design, control, and human-robot interfaces due to its targeted end and expected usage.

Robotic orthosis are mainly developed for four specific targeted ends. The first application focuses on rehabilitation, helping patients with mobility disorders in the rehabilitation of musculoskeletal strength and motor control, whereas releasing the heavy methods of traditional physical therapy.

The second application consists in human motor assistance, which is targeted for paralyzed patients who have lost their motor and sensor function. The use of a robotic orthosis in this kind of situations enable these patients to regain the ability to stand up, walk, or raise their arm just as an able-bodied person.

The third application is aimed at enhancing the physical abilities of able-bodied humans. In war, or even in civil protection scenarios, the equipment of firefighters with robotic orthosis allows them to reduce the energy expended, to have the feeling of increased strength, speed and even their physical endurance, making it possible, for example, to carry heavier loads, where the excess load is transferred to the shoes of the exoskeleton.

Lastly, in industrial production scenarios, the use of robotic orthosis in a production line allows employees to adopt a healthy posture, thereby avoiding injuries resulting from repetitive actions, therefore reducing physical wear and tear and increasing production speed.

References:

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