Designing Exoskeletons to be More Versatile and Accessible

Max Shepherd

Bouve/MIE Assistant Professor Max Shepherd, in collaboration with Aaron Young from Georgia Tech, was awarded a $800,000 NSF grant for “Towards Task-Agnostic and Device-Agnostic Ankle Exoskeleton Control for Mobility Enhancement.”

Abstract Source: NSF

Exoskeletons have tremendous potential to improve or augment human mobility. However, despite recent work showing the impact on easily defined tasks such as walking, researchers have tended to ignore the more complex maneuvers that are necessary in daily life, such as shuffling in the kitchen, bending to pick up a backpack, or transitioning in and out of a vehicle. Accordingly, exoskeletons are currently incapable of assisting beyond a highly limited range of tasks and may even reduce performance in these more complex tasks. Further, they must be tuned on a subject-specific basis for adequate performance, hindering broad adoption and leaving the devices inaccessible for many people. This project aims to revolutionize the field of lower limb exoskeletons by leveraging recent advancements in wearable sensing and machine learning.

Proposed research involves mapping sensor readings to exoskeleton assistance and requires collecting motion data exoskeleton wearers performing a wide range of tasks. The goal is to make exoskeletons capable of assisting with all possible tasks of daily living, increasing their utility and accessibility for a broader range of people. This is aligned with NSF’s mission to advance national health and welfare, as this new technology will significantly improve mobility and independence in the future, particularly during aging and for individuals with neuromuscular deficits. This project will open-source its datasets and deep learning models, promoting the progress of science by enabling other researchers to build upon our advances and further drive technological innovation in this domain. Finally, this project supports education and diversity through outreach events related to biomechanics and robotics, bringing students from minority-serving high schools to Northeastern University and Georgia Tech for hands-on demos and competitions with wearable robotics.

Related Departments:Mechanical & Industrial Engineering