Robot trousers could keep the elderly mobile, independent

Robotic trousers that help the wearer stand up or provide extra support could soon be a familiar sight on clothes rails around the world, according to British engineers.
They’re designed to be strong enough to pull a person from a seated to standing position, which could keep the elderly or infirm mobile and independent for longer.
Professor Jonathan Rossiter of the University of Bristol said: “Without these technologies, people who are stuck sitting in their living rooms, in their chairs, may not be able to get up, may not be able to move around. And at that point in their lives they will transition into a care setting — and that’s very expensive and it reduces their mobility and also their cognitive ability as slowly they start to feel less comfortable moving around.”
Using robots to aid older people’s cognitive and physical wellbeing is slowly gaining acceptance.
The team are now working on the first wearable prototype and they think their trousers will be a common sight on clothes rails around the world within seven years. Getting this technology into the trousers might be 10 years away, but it is set to give that added boost to our ability to stand and walk when we need it most.
Prof Rossiter, from the University of Bristol, explained that “there are about 10 million people in the UK with disabilities”. This includes people with functional disability, but also those with mobility problems in old age.
By 2046, the proportion of people aged 65 and over could grow to nearly a quarter of the population. About 1.2 milllion people in the UK have had a stroke.
Many of these people will need mobility assistance. The problems experienced by people may be in walking, sitting and standing, but also with other day-to-day tasks like dressing.
Researchers showcased the technology and some of the clothing developed for the first time at the British Science Festival in Hull last September.
Prof Rossiter has teamed up with scientists from across the UK to bring together nanoparticle science, functional 3-D printing, smart material development and artificial muscle technology.
“Soft robotics can make materials and structures that behave in a really sophisticated way in contrast to conventional robotics” said Prof Rossiter.
“We have evolved organisms that are so sophisticated in their movement in their sensing and in control, like the octopus, they can bend and twist can squeeze into small spaces. We can take some of these capabilities and put them into artificial muscles, put them onto clothing.”
At the science festival, Prof Rossiter’s team demonstrated the artificial muscles. They look like strings of cocktail sausages made from clear plastic (that feels like carrier bag material) and can be inflated with air.
Once inflated, the whole structure contracts and shortens like muscle does, and the cocktail sausage shapes becomes round like bubbles.