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A wearable robot to help people walk

In recent years, robotics have been introducing more and more advanced systems that can open up new opportunities for surgery, rehabilitation and medical care. These robotic systems are already helping to improve the quality of life of many people with disabilities, as well as patients who have suffered physical injuries or undergone medical operations.

Recently, researchers from Chung-Ang University in South Korea presented a new wearable robot designed to help people who have difficulty walking due to aging, muscle weakness, surgery or specific diseases. This robot, presented in the article "Effect of hip abduction assistance on metabolic cost and balance during human walking", published in the journal Science Robotics, improves balance and also reduces energy costs when walking.

"We were inspired to create our recent work by the fact that most of the wearable walking assistance robots are focused exclusively on movements in the sagittal plane," says Giuk Lee, one of the researchers who conducted the work. “However, walking is inherently three-dimensional, and movements in other planes are no less important.”

Unlike other robotic systems for hip abduction assistance proposed earlier, the robot created by Lee and his colleagues is oriented to the frontal plane. This is the frontal part of the human body that supports movement and lateral stability when walking.

The main assumption underlying the research of scientists is that energy costs during walking can be reduced with the help of wearable robots that simulate the natural moment of hip abduction. This is the movement of the leg away from the midline of the body, which provides walking and many other actions performed by a person every day.

"The wearable hip abduction robot we developed works based on the principle that walking efficiency can be improved by supporting lateral body movements," Lee said. - When we go forward, the center of mass of our body naturally shifts from side to side to maintain balance. During this recovery phase, the muscles that divert the hip are involved. Our device helps these muscles by facilitating the process of restoring the center of mass with less effort."

Lee and his colleagues evaluated the work of their robot both in simulations and in real experiments. The results of these tests turned out to be very promising - the robot reduced energy costs when walking by 11.6% compared to walking without assistance, and also improved balance and stability.

"Our study demonstrates the essential role of lateral assistance in improving walking efficiency by more effectively transferring the center of mass of the body from one leg to the other," added Myunghee Kim, co-author of the article. - This conclusion is especially encouraging for people with muscle weakness, suggesting a new direction for the development of support mechanisms. In the future, it is important to study how lateral assistance can help people with limited mobility, which in the future will change rehabilitation and support strategies."

In the future, the robotic system developed by a group of researchers can be improved and commercialized in the future, which will allow it to be used both for rehabilitation and for everyday use.

"In the future, we plan to study more deeply how hip abduction affects balance when walking," Lee added. - We noticed that hip abduction not only increases the efficiency of gait, but can also affect balance. We intend to explore the possibilities of wearable robots in improving balance when walking."

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