Robotic exoskeleton could help paraplegics and astronauts
The same technology may one day soon help paraplegics walk on Earth while simultaneously assist astronauts venturing into the vastness of space.
The X1 Robotic Exoskeleton is the product of a joint venture between NASA, the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (FIHMC) and Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston, Texas. The suit borrows design elements from NASA's Robonaut 2 project, a more than 300-pound humanoid robot sporting 350 sensors currently used on the International Space Station.
The idea behind the X1's space applications, according to NASA's website, is to augment an astronaut's movements by increasing an individual's strength in zero gravity. The suit, likened to the Marvel Comics superhero Iron Man, can both assist and inhibit movement, even allowing one to exercise during long missions in space. It doesn't, however, come with fancy repulsor rays … yet.
The X1 weighs 57 pounds and is worn over the legs with a harness that wraps around the shoulders. Through a total of 10 joints, four of which are motorized, anyone wearing the suit can move forward, backward, laterally, flex their feet and much more.
"What's extraordinary about space technology and our work with projects like Robonaut are the unexpected possibilities space tech spinoffs may have right here on Earth," said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Program. "It's exciting to see a NASA-developed technology that might one day help people with serious ambulatory needs begin to walk again, or even walk for the first time. That's the sort of return on investment NASA is proud to give back to America and the world."
While still in the research and development phase, the X1 Robotic Exoskeleton is an example of the innovative spirit that may eventually allow paraplegics to walk and assist astronauts in their exploration of space.
As cutting-edge methods of joining dissimilar metals and manufacturing sensors continue to evolve, the weight of such suits could be drastically reduced while their performance only gets better. In this case, not even the sky is the limit.