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Otherlab Working on a 'Fundamental Jump' in Technology for Exoskeletons (Video)

Roblimo posted about 7 months ago | from the was-it-a-man-or-was-it-a-robot? dept.

Medicine 36

"Otherlab," says their projects page, "is a private Research and Development company with a number of core competencies. We welcome industrial partnerships and commercialization partners. We have worked with dozens of companies globally from small start-ups to multi-nationals and Fortune 500 businesses. We develop enabling new technologies through an emphasis on prototyping coupled to rigorous physics simulation and mathematical models. We develop our own design tools because it's lonely at the frontier and to create new things and ideas, you often have to create the tools to design them." | One of their projects is building low-cost, inflatable exoskeletons that can be used as prosthetics or -- one presumes -- as strength multipliers for people who have working limbs. This is the project today's interviewee, Tim Swift, is working on. (Alternate Video Link)

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lololol (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47300269)

i love how the military uses all these tech people like slaves, to enslaves themselves.

i bet they think they are so cool enslaving themselves.

Re:lololol (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47300295)

I don't think that's accurate. I saw a documentary about that a few months back where Tony Stark built an exoskeleton suit but didn't share it with the military.

Re:lololol (1)

TWX (665546) | about 7 months ago | (#47300309)

I thought that he changed his mind, and decided to share one of them, though they weren't really able to reverse-engineer it or else his patent lawyers were too good...

Re:lololol (1)

Shortguy881 (2883333) | about 7 months ago | (#47300497)

Ah, if only I had mod points.

Re:lololol (3, Interesting)

mellon (7048) | about 7 months ago | (#47300677)

Are you nuts? This is going to help my mom to walk. Screw military applications—if they can make this work, it will change the lives of a lot of people who have physical disabilities.

Re:lololol (1)

cascadingstylesheet (140919) | about 7 months ago | (#47302009)

Are you nuts? This is going to help my mom to walk. Screw military applications—if they can make this work, it will change the lives of a lot of people who have physical disabilities.

Dang straight.

Oh Boy! (3, Informative)

TWX (665546) | about 7 months ago | (#47300297)

Another marketing press release!

I guess that we don't get enough of this at trade shows anymore!

But its awesome! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47300639)

Now all we need are a bunch of glowing air-breathing octopuses* to pummel and we will be set!**

*For those who aren't as smart as they think they are: this is the correct plural of octopus. It is not "octopi" or "octopodes." Wikipedia says so.

**This is a reference to a Tom Cruise action movie. The exercise of figuring out which move is left to the student.

The other type of soft exoskeleton (1)

slew (2918) | about 7 months ago | (#47300301)

Lower tech and more fun here [google.com] ...

Tigerblood. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47300307)

Flash video? Seriously? Slashdot continues its slide into irrelevance.

Re:Tigerblood. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47300583)

I see I wasn't the only one who couldn't view the video.

Sounds like PR Hype to me. (3, Insightful)

gurps_npc (621217) | about 7 months ago | (#47300379)

Look, the main issue everyone has with exoskeletons is the same issue we have with jetpacks - power limitations.

Batteries are heavy. It takes an awful lot of energy to even give someone human strength, not counting the additional costs to carry the battery and the exoskeleton itself.

As such, all exoskeletons suits currently in development either are tethered to a wall plug or have a ridiculously low battery capacity.

A couple of people tried to make it work using fuel powered engines (gasoline, etc.) to power the , but those are also heavy once again resulting in shortened times between re-fueling.

Even if you eliminate the dead weight of human limbs, (ie. small pack bots) the operating time is too short for things

Anyone that makes a significant improvement in this area would not portray it as "working exoskeleton", but instead as "INCREDIBLY LONG LIFE BATTERY/GENERATOR".

Re:Sounds like PR Hype to me. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47300619)

the main issue everyone has with exoskeletons is the same issue we have with jetpacks - power limitations.

Exoskeletons are basically small forklifts with legs. As long as your power needs are between 8-10 hours, you could pop a human in one and double his lifting strength for a working day with about 60-100lbs of batteries, distributed around the model.

If you want to power one for 100+ hours (e.g. military purposes, exploration) you'll need to look at improving battery technology.

Re:Sounds like PR Hype to me. (2)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | about 7 months ago | (#47300729)

It is possible to synthesize excited bromide in an argon matrix. Yes, it's an excimer frozen in its excited state.

Re:Sounds like PR Hype to me. (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | about 7 months ago | (#47300829)

I bet you could shoot a really powerful crossbow with a power source like that.

It should be called the Crossbow Project.

Sounds like PR Hype to me. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47301755)

While it's a great effort trying to emulate natural movement does that improve the condition of the operator? Isn't the mobility/freedom the point? Getting out of the chair and into a more vertical posture may be a compromise. Possibly something based on the Segway technology with support?

Re: Sounds like PR Hype to me. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47303935)

Or you need it to use less energy. Look at kangaroos. They save energy by hopping.

Re:Sounds like PR Hype to me. (2)

khchung (462899) | about 7 months ago | (#47304529)

As such, all exoskeletons suits currently in development either are tethered to a wall plug or have a ridiculously low battery capacity.

You made the wrong assumption that an exoskeleton suit is only useful if it is fully mobile like a car, HOWEVER, there are already LOTS of practical application for a suit that only works well when plugged-in, or with very short battery duration (e.g. 15 mins)

E.g. Old people or disabled people, with a plugged-in suit, can live a mostly normal life within their homes, rather than needing a 24-hour nurse just to take them to the bathroom.

I would guess that people with paralysis or legs disabled would celebrate the day they can effectively walk around their own home with such a suit. Especially if the home is retrofitted with enough power sockets for plugging in the suit where ever they go around the house.

Re:Sounds like PR Hype to me. (1)

Graydyn Young (2835695) | about 7 months ago | (#47305621)

They addressed this in the video. Their approach is to greatly decrease the weight of the exoskeleton. That reduces power requirements. They show an elbow pad that's so light that the presenter can easily hold it in one hand (although I'm assuming the battery isn't attached).

ZZZZZZ... (1)

superdave80 (1226592) | about 7 months ago | (#47300391)

Stopped reading after this bit of generic corporate phrasing:

...with a number of core competencies

Oh, so you are competent in a number of core things... like every company in existence? Sheesh.....

I for one welcome our new balloon men overlords (1)

Crashmarik (635988) | about 7 months ago | (#47300427)

But really another compressor powered exoskeleton ? How is ignorance of prior art construed as innovation ?

Is this is what Slashdot has become... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47300487)

...A medium for product placement?

Re:Is this is what Slashdot has become... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47300575)

It's not even good product placement. I keep seeing these articles and get slightly intrigued. So I click on the video to see whatever it is in action, but then it's just some asshole at a maker's fair or convention talking about it for 10 minutes instead of a 2-3 minute youtube link to the damn thing in action. If all we're gonna get is some asshole talking about cool it is and a brief glimpse of the thing, then just give us a damn transcript and a picture.

Tim Swift? (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | about 7 months ago | (#47300547)

So near, and yet so far...

D'oh! (2)

Thud457 (234763) | about 7 months ago | (#47300719)

Missed it by that much Tim said Swiftly.

Recycled Plot Line (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47300689)

I think this "Tim Swift" needs to find a new source for his ideas.


A real fundamental jump would be (3, Insightful)

Spy Handler (822350) | about 7 months ago | (#47300749)

a power source that isn't crappy. That would enable exoskeletons and robots that are useful.

If you watch the demo videos, they all either have a power cord dangling off the exoskeleton/robot (presumably plugged into A/C mains) or an annoyingly loud and smoky 2-stroke generator running onboard. That's because current batteries provide nowhere near enough juice to power these suits/robots to any degree of usefulness.

We aren't lacking in servo/microcontroller/robotics tech, we're lacking a decent battery tech.

Re:A real fundamental jump would be (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47304137)

Why must it be battery tech? Maybe the way to go is chemical sources. They're far more energy dense, so it's an obvious solution.

What is this world coming to? (1)

TsuruchiBrian (2731979) | about 7 months ago | (#47300795)

I have always dreaded the day when robots achieved fundamental jump.

exoskeleton failz (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47300947)

If anyone happens to catch one of these exoskeleton things seg-faulting and bending someone into a pretzel, please brighten everyone's day and post it to youtube.

Oh give me a break (1)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about 7 months ago | (#47301399)

I guess if you're a moron you might actually believe that a company who's primary product is metal elephants is capable of building a transformative system.

Like the thorium laser car.

Re:Oh give me a break (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47303787)

With sharks!

Theres a reason why pneumatic aren't used as much (3, Interesting)

Plazmid (1132467) | about 7 months ago | (#47301917)

The big reason why pneumatics aren't used as much in robotics is that air is very compressible, which leads to all sorts of nastiness when you make pneumatic actuators.

Because air is compressible, compressing air is not very efficient compared to say hydraulics. This is bad for exoskeletons.

The other problem is that the compressibility of air limits the 'bandwidth,' or how fast these actuators can actuate and un-actuate controllably, achievable with these actuators. In addition, the bandwidth of pneumatic actuators is often below the frequency of human walking, making them impractical most exoskeleton applications.

And of course, there's more to it than compressibility at play here that could make these actuators impractical. Since these actuators use a rubber membrane, these actuators are subject to hysteresis, significant temperature effects, and creep.

Rubber, when stretched and unstretched quickly, heats up causing the rubber to change it's stiffness. In addition, the temperature of the rubber can also change due the air being pumped into them. Rubber, and other elastomers, also experiences a phenomenon known as creep, where it slowly stretches out with time. In fact, current industrial pneumatic muscles NEVER actuate exactly the same because of all this, and one has to use interesting control approaches.

I am also skeptical that this will be cheaper in practice than mass produced electric actuators. While the actuators themselves are cheap, the valves and other hardware necessary to control them are not. The actuators themselves will certainly wear out sooner than electric actuators(>10 years continuous operation for robot arm actuators) due to the creep mentioned above. With lower efficiency and increased maintenance costs the overall cost of using these could very well be higher.

In fact, the brushless motor in the compressor they show in the video probably can provide" 25% of the power of a normal human elbow," and the only reason it can't be used on a human elbow is that much of that power is at high-speed with low torque. If someone were to develop a compact and efficient gearbox for turning high speed- low torque into low speed-high torque, then one could mass produce it and skip all the pneumatic silliness.(Or just do what that company that robotics google just bought did and use watercooling/overclocking)

Re:Theres a reason why pneumatic aren't used as mu (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47302463)

Pneumatics is way better exactly because air is compressible, that allows you to make something more akin to a controlled force actuator - making it easy to modulate force to pick up an egg or crush a brick. The actuators are also compliant, (inherently springy), meaning less precise positional control is required to do real world dynamic activities, and less energy will be required for things like walking/running. The control problem is mostly about modulating pressure quickly.

Rubber creep is obviously not a problem because the bladders are contained by a textile shell that doesn't creep. They provide an impermeable membrane to hold air in, not strength.

The big cost in conventional actuators is making an articulated structure that they can be attached to, and then all of the positional sensors and with tonnes of degrees of freedom that can accommodate a freely moving human body. If this can be built into suits then those costs and weights might be avoidable.

This approach would probably not make sense for industrial robotics or other precision applications. But exoskeleton/mobile robotics that have to interact with the real world could really benefit, particularly for exoskeletons where the human provides the fine control. Obviously a long way to go with development, but worth exploring.

You Fai7 IT (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47302835)


Also used for inflatable robotics (1)

HizookRobotics (1722346) | about 7 months ago | (#47307161)

The same company is also working on inflatable robotics. I wrote an article about 'em a while back; it's definitely worth taking a look: http://www.hizook.com/blog/201... [hizook.com]
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