Robotics Exoskeletons Could One Day Walk By Themselves

Engineers, using artificial intelligence and wearable cameras, now aim to help exotic skeletons move.

Increasingly, researchers around the world are developing low-energy exoskeletons to help people move. These are actually users of pedestrian robots that can tie on their legs to help them walk.

One problem with such exoskeletons: It usually depends on manual manipulation from one locomotion mode to another, such as sitting in a standing position, or standing to move, or moving downwards or upwards. Relying on leisure activities or on smartphone apps every time you want to change the way you want to move can show discomfort and mental anguish, says Brokoslaw Lachowski, a robotic researcher at the University of  Waterloo in Canada.

Scientists are working with automated methods to help the exoskeletons determine when they can change the output mechanisms - for example, using sensors attached to the legs that can detect bioelectric signals sent from your brain to your muscles telling them to move. However, this method comes with many challenges, such as how skin rejuvenation can change as a person’s skin becomes sweaty or dry.

Now a number of research teams are experimenting with a new approach: equipping exoskeleton users with portable cameras to provide vision data machines that will allow them to operate independently. Artificial intelligence (AI) software can analyze this data to identify stairs, doors, and other environmental features and calculate how best to respond.

Lachowski is leading the ExoNet project, the first open-source database of camera images with high resolution of extinction scenarios. Contains more than 5.6 million images of real-world trails. The team used this data to train in-depth learning algorithms; their convolutional neural networks can automatically detect different areas of motion with an accuracy of 73 percent "although there are significant differences in different locations and objects felt by the wearable camera," notes Lachowski.

According to Lachowski, the potential limit for their work is their reliance on standard 2-D images, while depth cameras can also capture distance data that can be useful. He and his colleagues eventually chose not to rely on 

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AI and portable cameras can help exoskeletons act like autonomous vehicles

depth cameras for a number of reasons, including the fact that the accuracy of depth measurements degraded the external light and the growing distance, he says.

In the same work, researchers in North Carolina had volunteered with cameras mounted on eyeglasses or knee-deep in various indoor and outdoor routes to capture the type of photographic exoskeletons they could use to see the world around them. 

The purpose? "Making a machine change," said Edgar Lobaton, an electrical engineering researcher at North Carolina State University. He says they are focused on how AI software can reduce uncertainty due to features such as movement blurring or over-highlighted images "to ensure safe operation.

In the future, Lachowski and his colleagues will focus on improving the accuracy of their environmental analysis software with low calculation and memory requirements, important to the board, real-time performance on exotic skeletons. Lobaton and its team want to respond to the uncertainties included in their motion watch programs.

Finally, ExoNet researchers want to explore how AI software can transfer commands to the exoskeleton so that it can perform tasks such as climbing stairs or avoiding obstacles based on analysis of the current user's current and future navigation system. Private vehicles, as a promotion, want to develop independent exoskeletons that can handle travel activities without human intervention, Lachowski said.

However, Lachowski adds, “User safety is very important, especially when we are dealing with people with mobility impairments,” which is probably due to old age or physical disability.

"The exoskeleton user will always have the ability to use the system if the partition algorithm or controller makes the wrong decision."

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