Robotic Legs with Superhuman Reflexes

Image by pixabay

This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)

When people slip or trip, their reactions to regain balance are far slower than some machines can act. For humans, and other animals with legs, it takes time for biological sensors to send signals to the nervous system and then turn on muscles. Robots can act much faster, using wires instead of nerves to send their signals.

But robots are still notoriously bad at balancing, because they can’t yet mimic how humans respond when their balance is challenged. However, biomechanical engineers and rehabilitation physiology researchers who study the neurophysiology of movement sought to answer the question of whether wearable robots—like powered lower-limb exoskeletons or prostheses—can improve balance above and beyond a normal baseline.

The researchers used a motorized floor to “pull the rug out” from under healthy young participants—pitching them forward toward the ground. They asked them to stay balanced with their feet in place. Then, they programmed the exo-boots to give the participants a blast of assistance with either the same delay as their natural response or artificially faster than humanly possible and compared that to giving no exo-boot assistance at all.

They were surprised to find that only the mode that beats the human reaction to the punch helped users recover balance faster and prevented them from taking a step to recover.

As can be seen here:

The study was published in

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