Wearable muscle suit takes care of the heavy lifting

Researchers in Tokyo have developed a wearable exoskeleton that will make it easier for the elderly to carry out normal activities.
Written by Sarah Korones, Contributor

Thanks to developments in Japan, it might not be long before moving furniture from room to room becomes a task delegated to those other than the big and burly types.

Researchers at the Tokyo University of Science have designed a wearable “muscle suit” that could make weights of 65 pounds feel flimsy. The team, led by Hiroshi Kobayashi, designed the suit to mimic natural human motions, making it both easy to use and control.

The suits come in two forms: one that helps out the arms and back areas of the body by helping with heavy lifting and another, lighter version that weighs only 11 pounds and will be used in the nursing industry to help when lifting people in and out of bed.

Rob Gilhooly describes his experience with the heavier suit in the latest issue of New Scientist:

It takes a second to register, but the 40 kg of rice I just picked up like a human forklift truck suddenly seem as light as a feather. Thanks to the "muscle suit"… I feel completely empowered. Fixed at the hips and shoulders by a padded waistband and straps, and extending part-way down the side of my legs, the exoskeleton has an A-shaped aluminium frame and sleeves that rotate freely at elbow and shoulder joints.

The key difference between Kobayashi’s muscle suit and wearable exoskeletons of the past is that his won’t be weighed down with heavy electric controls and motors. Kobayashi’s suit will come with PAMs, or pneumatic artificial muscles. These lightweight contraptions will contract when air is pumped in, giving up to 66 pounds of support. According to the scientist, the power-to-weight ratio of these suits will be 400 times greater than those of motor-driven suits.

Given Japan’s rapidly aging population, the researchers hope that the lightweight exoskeleton will be of the greatest use to the elderly or those who care for them.

The suit is scheduled for commercial release in early 2013 and will be available to rent starting at around $190 per month.

[via New Scientist]

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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