Better Walking with Robotic Legs

Simon Riezebos
November 13th 2012

The Berkeley Robotics & Human Engineering Laboratory is researching a way to improve the performance of human bodies. They are doing innovative research in the field of exoskeletons that improve human legs. Current projects include two amazing types of leg augmentations: The Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) and the Austin Project.

The Austin Project is dedicated to providing people with mobility disorders with an accessible way to mobilize themselves. The goal of this project is to give people that are now restricted to a wheelchair the opportunity to stand and walk, in an accessible and affordable way. Eventually this could even replace the wheelchair, helping to eliminate secondary disabilities associated with long-term use of a wheelchair.

The HULC Project is also doing research in exoskeletons, but there is a big difference with the Austin Project. The target group of these exoskeletons is people that already have working legs. The goal is to enhance them. It augments the human leg both in strength and endurance. A person wearing these leg enhancements will get less tired than a person without them, as well as being able to carry up to 90 kg on their back. There are sensors in the legs that feel what movement you are going to make and the exoskeleton makes the movement with you, while diverting the mass on your back to the ground.

These projects are a good example of fusion between the made and the born. A person who is unable to walk could walk once again. A hiker climbing Mount Everest could take 90 kg of extra survival tools with him without getting tired! Who knows what the possibilities of the next generation of these legs are? Jumping on a house? Running faster than a car?

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