Bristol Uni and UWE awarded £2m to develop robotic trousers to help the elderly and disabled

Artificial muscles in soft 'smart' fabric will help increase people's independence
3rd March 2015

Move over Wallace and Gromit, Bristol University and UWE have been given a share of a £2 million research grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to develop their own smart robotic trousers using artificial ‘muscles’ in its soft fabric to help disabled and older people move around easily and unaided.

Freedom to be independent

The plan is for them to develop soft robotic clothing that can support people as they walk, sit or stand, enabling people with mobility impairments, disabilities and age-related weaknesses to live independently and with dignity.

“This is the first time soft robotics technologies have been used to address the many rehabilitation and healthcare needs in one single type of wearable device”

 

The leader of the project, Dr Jonathandr JonathN rOSSITER Rossiter (pictured left), Reader in Robotics in the Department of Engineering and Mathematics, said: “This is the first time soft robotics technologies have been used to address the many rehabilitation and healthcare needs in one single type of wearable device.

“Many existing devices used by people with mobility problems can cause or aggravate conditions such as poor circulation, skin pressure damage or susceptibility to falls, each of which is a drain on health resources.  Wearable soft robotics has the potential to improve many of these problems and reduce healthcare costs at the same time too.”

Clever clothing

This intelligent clothing or ‘second skin’ will use artificial ‘muscles’ made from smart materials and reactive polymers which are capable of exerting great forces.  The wearable device will be developed using the latest wearable soft robotic, nanoscience, 3D fabrication, functional electrical stimulation and full-body monitoring technologies, all driven by the need of the end users, who will be directly involved in the project.

The clothing will include control systems that monitor the wearer and adapt to give the most suitable assistance, working with the body’s own muscles.  For patients needing rehabilitation the smart clothing can initially provide strong support and subsequently reduce assistance as the patient recovers mobility and strength.

Working in collaboration

The £2 million project called Wearable soft robotics for independent living is led by the University of Bristol in collaboration with the universities of Nottingham, Leeds, StrathclydeSouthampton, Loughborough and UWE Bristol.  The three-year project will start in July 2015 and be completed by June 2018.

You can keep up with the latest from Bristol University by looking at the University of Bristol News page, or by following them on Twitter: @BristolUni. You can also see UWE‘s news page and follow them on Twitter too: @UWEBristol