Wearable arm muscles could help overcome upper body injuries

The exoskeleton can restore strength and endurance.

Florian Haute/ETH Zurich

Many medical exosuits are built to improve walking, but researchers at ETH Zurich might have a solution to improve your arm strength. They've developed the Myoshirt, a wearable arm exomuscle that can compensate for conditions and injuries affecting the upper body. The combination of vest and cuff uses sensors to detect your intended movements and cue a motor that shortens a cable running alongside your muscles. Effectively, you're getting a supplemental tendon that provides additional power and endurance for whatever you're doing.

Early tests have been positive. A dozen volunteers could perform exercises for much longer than usual, with endurance increasing 60 percent for a person with muscular dystrophy and a whopping three times for someone with a spinal cord injury. Even uninjured people lasted 30 percent longer, scientists said.

You aren't about to wear one. The Myoshirt's actuator and bulky external control box weigh about 8.8lbs. The team plans to narrow the focus to shoulder support to make the design small and light enough to wear under clothing. This won't give you exceptional strength or support like some full-fledged exoskeletons.

ETH is working with the spinoff company MyoSwiss to refine the exomuscle, though, and the practical applications are clear. Hospitals could supply Myoshirts to patients who need to perform exercises at home without ungainly (not to mention costly) therapy devices. The technology could also be useful for making day-to-day tasks noticeably easier.