Researchers at Hiroshima University and Daiya Industry Co. Ltd., Japan, have developed a new model of pneumatic muscle and an active type of assistive equipment, according to a recent press release.
The wearable equipment, or Unplugged Powered Suit (UPS), supports human movement without the use of electronic devices or tanks, the release noted.
The suit consists of three parts: the Pneumatic Gel Muscle (PGM), a drive part that acts as an actuator; a pump, which allows air pressure for flexing artificial muscle; and the pipework, or transmission. The pump is equipped in the sole of the suit, which allows the driving force to be transmitted to the PGM by using human body weight.
“The UPS is designed to support human motion where and when needed. It also does not contain any heavy devices,” Yuichi Kurita, PhD, associate professor at Hiroshima University, said in the release. “This means that we can customize to the user’s particular needs, such as muscle strength for athletes and rehabilitation. In the future, we can develop smarter assistive suits including wearable actuators and sensors by using our technique.”
According to the release, two examples of UPS application are to decrease muscle activity during jogging and to increase pitch speed. To decrease muscle activation during jogging, the PGM is equipped along the musculus soleus and the pump is equipped on the ipsilateral toe. To increase pitch speed, the PGM is equipped along the greater pectoral muscle and the pump is equipped on the contralateral toe.
“For example, PGM covers the articulatio coxae and the pump is equipped on the contralateral sole,” Kurita said. “This arrangement makes it possible to support human hip movement in the swing phase.”
According to the release, the PGM is characterized as light, flexible, easily maintained and capable of exerting supportive power by low air pressure. Its simple structure also reportedly makes it less expensive compared with traditional assistive equipment.
Researchers note the UPS could improve the quality of life for elderly individuals, as well as active individuals who frequently partake in sports.
It will be displayed at the International Robot Exhibition in December 2015.