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Not all exoskeletons need motors to boost your strength

Steve Dent, @stevetdent
February 24, 2015
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Robotic exoskeletons have their place, but not everyone needs to curl cinder blocks. You may just want to recover from an injury, for instance, or safely lift things on the job. Enter the "Sensorimotor Enhancing Suit (SEnS)" from Hiroshima University and Georgia Tech researchers. "Sensorimotor" refers to the relationship between muscles and nerves -- when your muscles strain to list heavy objects, they have a harder time sensing movement. The suit pulls off the double trick of reducing muscle load in your upper body and improving lifting coordination, without the cost and complexity of batteries and motors.

The idea isn't new, of course, as the US Military's DARPA arm, for one, is also working on passive suits that reduce fatigue in soldiers or civilians. However, the SEnS researchers say they've developed custom computer models that calculate the maximum range of motion where subjects can comfortably sense lifting forces. They used that info to build the suit out of ordinary flexible fabrics that take the load off of the primary lifting muscles. It could be used by the elderly, injury rehab patients or healthy people working in extreme conditions, to name a few. The team added that the suit could eventually be "made-to-order... in keeping with individual muscle movements."

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