Researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have developed a new portable robotic exosuit with the potential to help people with gait impairments.

Currently, the device can aid a wearers walk and run by assisting with gait-specific hip extension.

Previously, robotic devices have been developed for different purposes, including medical rehabilitation. However, researchers noted the lack of a portable device that could aid in both walking and running.

In alliance with the University of Nebraska Omaha, the Wyss Institute team created a portable, lightweight exosuit that can be worn at the waist and thighs.

The robotic device comes with a mobile actuation system, which can be placed at the lower back and has an algorithm to identify the switch from walking to running and vice versa.

The research was carried out under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) former Warrior Web programme focused on technologies to prevent and reduce musculoskeletal injuries due to dynamic events that usually occur in the warfighter’s setting.

The new robotic exosuit is based on the team’s previous soft, multi-joint exosuit technology that is designed to aid the hip as well as ankle during walking.

A medical version of the multi-joint exosuit is currently available in the US and Europe to help improve gait rehabilitation in stroke survivors. The device is being commercialised through partnership with ReWalk Robotics.

The new hip exosuit is created to be comparatively lightweight, while its actuation system helps the hip joint and gluteal muscles.

Wyss Institute founding director Donald Ingber said: “This breakthrough study coming out of the Wyss Institute’s Bioinspired Soft Robotics platform gives us a glimpse into a future where wearable robotic devices can improve the lives of the healthy, as well as serve those with injuries or in need of rehabilitation.”

The team is currently working to refine the hip-assisting technology, including reduction of its weight.

They also intend to extend the device’s application to help people with gait impairments and those at risk of injury due to physically strenuous tasks.