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February 09, 2007

Robotic exoskeleton replaces muscle work

A robotic exoskeleton controlled by the wearer's own nervous system could help users regain limb function, which is encouraging news for people with partial nervous system impairment, say University of Michigan researchers.

The ankle exoskeleton developed at U-M was worn by healthy subjects to measure how the device affected ankle function. The U-M team has no plans to build a commercial exoskeleton, but their results suggest promising applications for rehabilitation and physical therapy, and a similar approach could be used by other groups who do build such technology.

Initially the wearer's gait was disrupted because the mechanical power added by the exoskeleton made the muscle stronger. However, in a relatively short time, the wearers adapted to the new strength and used their muscles less because the exoskeleton was doing more of the work. Their gait normalized after about 30 minutes.

The next step is to test the device on patients with impaired muscle function, Ferris said.

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