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Seed Grant Awardee: Wenlong Zhang

Wenlong Zhang

Low-cost and lightweight wearable soft robots can be used in labor-intensive jobs and sports training to reduce muscle efforts and joint loads, improve performance, and prevent injuries. This project builds upon the success of our last GSI-funded seed project “Empowering Knee Rehabilitation and Assistance of Athletes with a Soft Robotic Exosuit” (PI Dr. Polygerinos left ASU; coPI Dr. Zhang continued soft robotics research) to advance the soft exosuit design and examine its potential benefits on healthy individuals in sports training and daily jobs. Three tasks are planned in this project.

1) New soft actuation mechanism for knee flexion support: our last project demonstrated an undergarment soft exosuit with two fabric-based inflatable actuators to support knee extension. For this project, new inflatable actuator designs will be studied to generate knee flexion support through exploring various materials, geometries and fabrication techniques. As a result, the new exosuits will be able to provide assistance (or resistance) in the entire gait cycle. The research team will characterize the material properties of the actuators, optimize the design to reduce the weight and size of the exosuit, and evaluate the actuation speed and output torque to support activities of healthy individuals.

2) Enhancing portability and user friendliness: the current soft exosuit, while proved effective in the last project, has to be used under the supervision of engineers and therapists since it is tethered to a pneumatic source and difficult to adjust the amount of assistance. This project will develop a portable system to generate compressed air to power the exosuit, and a smart phone based program for the user to adjust the timing and amount of the assistance. This would allow different people to use the exosuits in various activities.

3) Human participant testing and evaluation: the new exosuit system will be tested in sports training and other labor-intensive jobs. The research team has a partnership with Sun Devil Women’s Lacrosse, and they have expressed interests in testing the exosuits in their routine training. The research team will also design physical tasks that involve holding or moving heavy objects, by leveraging our existing partnership with FedEx. Both tests will focus on understanding the task performance of the users, joint loads and muscle efforts, and appropriate deployment of the exosuits to maximize its benefit and reduce overuse/overtraining.

Last Updated February 2020.

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