Soft exoskeleton project receives €5.4m in EU support
Researchers working on ExoSoft, a wearable exoskeleton for people with reduced mobility, have secured €5.4 million funding under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme. The nine organisations involved in public-private partnership now aim to develop the first fully-functional prototype by 2019.
XoSoft has been described as a kind of ‘smart trousers’ that allows the wearer to move their legs by detecting movement intention.
This group is led by Senior lecturer in Design Ergonomics at University of Limerick and Health Research Institute (HRI) member Dr Leonard O’Sullivan and head of UL’s School of Design, Dr Adam de Eyto.
“There are 3.2 million wheelchair users in Europe and another 40 million who cannot walk without an aid. People with limitation in independent movement of their legs can rely on a variety of assistive devices. Yet the available assistive aids are usually bulky, fairly inflexible and can therefore only partially support the process of movement. Neither do they encourage or support the activation of legs, which is essential to prevent further atrophy. This is where XoSoft comes in,” Dr O’Sullivan said.
In the project, state-of-the-art advanced textiles and smart materials will be used to create sensing and variable-stiffness joints. Built-in sensors will communicate the user’s motion and intention to the controlling unit for analysis to determine and provide, the appropriate level of assistance. Depending on the user’s need at a given moment, the device will provide support, release or freedom of movement.
The UL group will use their expertise in user-centred design and medical device innovation to lead this aspect of the design of XoSoft.
“This user-centred design will ensure that the needs of real users drive the technical innovations within the project, creating an effective and user-friendly device,” said Dr O’Sullivan.
“This project is an exciting addition to our already strong track record in EU funding in the area of medical device assistive technologies.”