Improving Quality of Life with Wearable Robotics

Published: Thursday October 10, 2019

Aaron Young and Greg Sawicki approach robotics from different angles, but they share the same goal- they want to develop wearable robotic devices that can help people maintain or increase their mobility.


Aaron Young and Greg Sawicki approach robotics from different angles, but they share the same goal- they want to develop wearable robotic devices that can help people maintain or increase their mobility. Together their labs in Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering are laying the groundwork for a range of devices that could help children, stroke patients, the elderly, and amputees gain more independence and move with greater comfort and ease.

“My goal in the lab is to make sure that people can do what they want to do as long as they want to,” says Sawicki. “That might be a big challenge, but it’s a straightforward guiding principle- make people happy by allowing them to keep moving.”

Aaron Young approaches these challenges as a controls specialist focused on how the human body can interface with a robotic device. The human body processes countless signals every time a person moves, so he is focused on translating those neural signals into commands for a range of exoskeletons and prostheses that can perform as seamlessly as if they were a part of the body.

"I was always really interested on the control side of things, understanding how to take biological signals or neural signals from the human and use that to control robotic devices," says Young. "That was really my focus as a graduate student at Northwestern and what got me into this field of human augmentation and assistive restoration with prostheses and exoskeletons."

"I'm trying to understand how to unite the human user with their assistive robotic technology. A major part of that focus is on something that we call intent recognition which is really trying to understand what a person is trying to do and then use different artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to take sensor information from the human and the robot and use that to appropriately give assistance."

With Young focused on the human-machine interface and control systems, Sawicki looks at the neuromechanics and energetics of human locomotion and how movement can be augmented with wearable technology. An avid runner and biker, he has always been fascinated with the efficiency of movement, and he is focused on finding ways to restore that efficiency to people who are lacking in it. If that can be done, they could live more active lifestyles over a longer period of time. Sawicki also looks at the impact wearable devices have on the body itself, whether that’s in terms of energy cost or how something attached to a person’s ankle might impact their knee or hip.

As he puts it, “When I got involved with wearable robotics I saw that we're attaching something to the outside of a very complex structure- the human body. And if you don't think at all about what's happening under the skin you're not going to solve the problem. You have to understand muscles and how they work to build good robots.”

And make no mistake- Sawicki and Young are building good robots, even though they might not be what comes to mind when most people think of robots.

Their devices are wearable, and have varying degrees of electronics and coding built into them. Though the technology behind them varies, they all share a common goal- to make it easier for people to be mobile. Here are some of the projects they are working on.

 

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