NASA and the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) have been working on a remarkable project – the X1 exoskeleton.
They hope this exoskeleton will not only help astronauts maintain muscle strength in low-gravity, low-resistance environments but that it can also be used to help paraplegics to walk.
The X1 exoskeleton is oddly reminiscent of the suit that Marvel hero Ironman wears that gives him super-strength. Whilst this suit won’t enable the wearer to fly, nor shoot aliens as they emerge from portals – it is still groundbreaking and could be incredibly helpful to astronauts on long missions.
It is a derivative of NASA’s Robonaut 2, a robotic astronaut currently residing on the ISS.
The X1 has 4 motorized joints at the hips and knees, with 6 passive joints that allow the wearer the flexibility to sidestep or turn. The team wants to add further joints to the ankles and the hips to allow for a bigger range in movement and maneuverability.
The 57-pound device is worn over the body and can either assist or inhibit movements in leg joints. When set to the ‘inhibit’ mode, the X1 can be used as an in-space exercise machine – supplying resistance against leg movements and helping astronauts to maintain muscle mass and stay healthier.
In the ‘assist’ mode, researchers are hoping that the X1 can be used to help paraplegics to walk.
Michael Gazarik, director of NASA’s Space Technology Program said:
“Robotics is playing a key role aboard the International Space Station and will continue to be critical as we move toward human exploration of deep space…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. 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.”
The X1 is currently in the design and development phase, however hopefully it won’t be long before we can reap the benefits of this awesome piece of technology.