Science fiction has given us a vision of the future where humans might one day enjoy super-strength and abilities while wearing a rigid robotic exoskeleton suit. But back here in reality, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a soft bio-robotic socks designed to assist those who have difficulty with something as simple as walking.
Working alongside collaborators at Harvard, MIT, USC, and a company called BioSensics, the Carnegie Mellon researchers decided to make the orthotic device from soft plastics and other non-rigid materials so that it was able to better reproduce the natural motions of an actual human foot and ankle.
Pneumatic artificial muscles—three in the foreleg and one in the back for the ankle—work alongside lightweight sensors to facilitate the actual movement for the wearer. And the prototype was able to produce a sagittal motion of the ankle—rocking the foot from side to side—of 27 degrees which is enough to reproduce a normal walking motion.
For the immediate future the super sock is intended to assist patients dealing with neuromuscular disorders in the foot and ankle caused by conditions like strokes, multiple sclerosis, or even cerebral palsy. But eventually, as the technology and prototype is refined and streamlined, it could lead to whole body suits designed to enhance our body's existing capabilities as science fiction has promised. [Carnegie Mellon via Gizmag]