Robotic exosuits have already found use in a variety of medical applications from helping Parkinson's patients walk more easily to letting kids with spinal muscular atrophy play again. Now a team of researchers from the EPFL have developed a pair of wearable "exo-shorts" (given they only cover the upper thigh and hips) which monitors the steps of the user and automatically jerks them upright out of stumbles and falls.
Trips, slips and falls hurt millions of elderly people every year and cause 95 percent of hip fractures and traumatic brain injuries in people over 65. And, while many old people will attempt to self-correct their stumble, they often lack the strength to do so.
This device, dubbed the Active Pelvis Orthosis (APO) is designed specifically to prevent that. The exoskeleton sits on a person's hips and monitors their steps, quickly learning their normal gait. But if the suit detects a misstep, whether the hips are at the wrong angle or the user begins to tip over, it responds within 350 milliseconds, jerking the wearer's hips into a neutral, upright position, while pushing the thighs down into a more stable stance and halting the fall. The APO is built to only engage when it actually feels a fall coming on, they don't actively augment the user's steps.
The APO system is only in the infancy of its development and won't be coming to nursing homes near you any time soon. While the current prototype uses carbon fiber components, it still weighs about 9 pounds. That's way too heavy for frail folks to be lugging around so some weight-cutting measures are certainly in order.