Scientists have designed a wearable robot that will help older people with weakened muscles and mobility issues by supporting their hip joints while walking. The wearable system consists of plasticised polyvinyl chloride (PVC) gel, mesh electrodes, and applied voltage, according to the study published in the journal Smart Materials and Structures. The mesh electrodes sandwich the gel, and when voltage is applied, the gel flexes and contracts, like a muscle. It is a wearable actuator, the mechanism that causes movement. “(In our) current study, (we) sought to develop a lightweight, soft, wearable assist wear for supporting activities of daily life for older people with weakened muscles and those with mobility issues,” said Minoru Hashimoto, from the Shinshu University in Japan.
“We thought that the electrical mechanical properties of the PVC gel could be used for robotic artificial muscles, so we started researching the PVC gel,” said Hashimoto. “The ability to add voltage to PVC gel is especially attractive for high speed movement, and the gel moves with high speed with just a few hundred volts,” said Hashimoto. In a preliminary evaluation, a stroke patient with some paralysis on one side of his body walked with and without the wearable system. “We found that the assist wear enabled natural movement, increasing step length and decreasing muscular activity during straight line walking,” said Hashimoto. The researchers also found that adjusting the charge could change the level of assistance the actuator provides.