A soft, wearable device that mimics the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the lower leg could aid in the rehabilitation of patients with ankle-foot disorders such as drop foot, said Yong-Lae Park, an assistant professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University.
Park, working with collaborators at Harvard University, the University of Southern California, MIT and BioSensics, developed an active orthotic device using soft plastics and composite materials, instead of a rigid exoskeleton. The soft materials, combined with pneumatic artificial muscles (PAMs), lightweight sensors and advanced control software, made it possible for the robotic device to achieve natural motions in the ankle.
Among the innovations in the device are sensors made of a touch-sensitive artificial skin, thin rubber sheets that contain long microchannels filled with a liquid metal alloy. When these rubber sheets are stretched or pressed, the shapes of the microchannels change, which in turn causes changes in the electrical resistance of the alloy. These sensors were positioned on the top and at the side of the ankle.
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