What if a wearable accessory could provide more strength and stability to the disabled? Researchers at ETH Zurich have designed a wearable textile jacket that functions as an additional layer of muscle for those who need it most, according to a press release from the institution published on Thursday.
A useful technical aid
“Although hospitals have many good therapeutic devices, they are often very expensive & unwiedly. And there are very few technical aids that patients can directly use in daily life and rely on to perform exercises at home. We wanted to bridge this gap,” said Marie Georgarakis, a former doctoral student at the ETH Zurich Sensor Motor Systems Laboratory.
The new wearable is called Myoshirt and is described as follows: “It is a kind of vest with cuffs for upper arms, accompanied by a small box that contains all the technology that is not used directly on the body. An intelligent algorithm works through sensors embedded in the fabric, recognizing the wearer’s intentional movements and the amount of force required. A motor then shortens a cable in the fabric that runs parallel to the wearer’s muscles, a kind of artificial tendon, and thus maintains the desired movement.
The device is also said to offer support that is always tune to the user’s movements and can be tailored to their personal preferences. While wearing the vest, the user always maintain control and can override the device at any time if needed.
The researchers studied the new device with 12 subjects: 10 people without any physical disabilities, one with muscular dystrophy, and one with spinal cord injury. They found that all participants were able to lift their arms and/or objects significantly longer using the vest.
The data also showed an increase in endurance of about a third in healthy individuals and about 60% in those with muscular dystrophy. Meanwhile, participants with spinal cord injuries were able to perform the study exercises 3x longer. Participants also reported that the device was easy to use.
Now, the team aims to test the device in more everyday conditions. Michele Xiloyannis, who also works at the Engine Systems Lab at ETH Zürich, said: “In the next phase, we want to test our prototype outside of the lab in the natural environment of those wearers and use results to improve it more.
Prototypes are far from being marketed. Its actuator and control box currently weigh 4 kg, making it bulky and impractical. But for people with disabilities, the device is a great start to a future that can give them more control over their movements.
The research was published in Nature magazine.