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Researchers Working on AI for Exoskeletons

Monday, March 22, 2021

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Robotics researchers at the University of Waterloo (Ontario) are reportedly developing exoskeleton legs capable of “thinking and making control decisions” using artificial intelligence technology.

According to the University, the system combines computer vision and deep-learning AI to mimic able-bodied movement.

“We’re giving robotic exoskeletons vision so they can control themselves,” said Brokoslaw Laschowski, a PhD candidate in systems design engineering who leads a University of Waterloo research project called ExoNet.

University of Waterloo

Robotics researchers at the University of Waterloo are reportedly developing exoskeleton legs capable of “thinking and making control decisions” using artificial intelligence technology.

While exoskeletons operated by motors already exist, researchers point out that they typically must be manually controlled via either a smartphone application or joysticks.

“That can be inconvenient and cognitively demanding,” said Laschowski, who is also a student member of the Waterloo Artificial Intelligence Institute. “Every time you want to perform a new locomotor activity, you have to stop, take out your smartphone and select the desired mode.”

To address that, these researchers fitted the exoskeleton users with wearable cameras that optimize the AI software. The next phase involves sending instructions to motors so that the exoskeletons can climb stairs, avoid obstacles or take other actions based on the analysis of the user’s movement.

“Our control approach wouldn’t necessarily require human thought,” said Laschowski, who is supervised by engineering professor John McPhee, the Canada Research Chair in Biomechatronic System Dynamics. “Similar to autonomous cars that drive themselves, we’re designing autonomous exoskeletons that walk for themselves.”

Researchers note that they are also working to improve the energy efficiency of the motors by using human motion to self-charge the batteries.


While this specific study isn’t industry-focused, innovation has turned in recent years to the use of exoskeletons as a way to help prevent injury and fatigue in the construction sector.

Last August, tool manufacturer Hilti unveiled its first wearable exoskeleton, the EXO-O1. The company said that the “human augmentation device” aims to help contractors, tradesman and management to tackle health and safety as well as labor shortage challenges.

“We want to improve the health and safety of our customers, directly impacting jobsite productivity –so they can stay on time and on budget,” said Johannes Huber, Head of Business Unit Diamond Systems at HiltiGroup, parent company of Hilti North America. “Customers that embrace innovation and invest in the latest health and safety technology will be better able to attract and retain the best people, as well as keep their jobsites productive.”

That exoskeleton focuses on overhead and shoulder height and above applications and the company noted that more solutions will be forthcoming. In addition to the tool, the company says that it is also plans to offer implementation, training and support services for its customers.

In addition, in May 2018, suitX rolled out its exoskeleton products that can be assembled together at the MAX exoskeleton or used as individual pieces including backX, legX and shoulderX.


Tagged categories: Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; Research and development; Safety

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