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Pneumatic muscle simplifies wearable assistive equipment

30 November 2015

A pneumatic muscle and an active type of assistive equipment that incorporates it has been developed jointly by Hiroshima University and Daiya Industry.

The UPS consists of three parts: PGM (drive part), pump (air pressure for flexing the artificial muscle), and pipework (transmission). Image: Hiroshima University

This wearable equipment, called the Unplugged Powered Suit (UPS), supports human movement without requiring any electronic devices and tanks because it employs a newly developed pneumatic muscle (Pneumatic Gel Muscle or PGM) as an actuator. The UPS improves the quality of life of not only elderly individuals but also healthy people who enjoy sports activities.

With more conventional assistive equipment, compressors and tanks are necessary to exert sufficient power for supporting human motion. It is also expensive to maintain an assistive device.

The UPS consists of three parts: the PGM (drive part), pump (air pressure for flexing artificial muscle), and pipework (transmission). The PGM is light and flexible, and can exert supportive power using low air pressure. The pump is located in a shoe sole, enabling the driving force to be transmitted to the PGM by dint of human body weight.

“For example, the PGM covers the articulatio coxae and the pump is equipped on the contra-lateral sole. This arrangement makes it possible to support human hip movement in the swing phase,” explains Hiroshima University's Dr Yuichi Kurita.

There are two examples of UPS application. One is to decrease muscle activity during jogging, and the other is to increase the pitch speed. To decrease muscle activation during jogging, the PGM in the UPS is located along the musculus soleus and the pump is located on the ipsi-lateral toe. To increase the pitch speed, the PGM is located along the greater pectoral muscle and the pump is located on the contra-lateral toe.

"The UPS is designed to support human motion where and when needed, adds Dr Kurita. "It also does not contain any heavy devices. This means that we can customise the UPS to the user’s particular needs such as muscle strength for athletes and rehabilitation. In the future, we can develop smarter assistive suits including wearable actuators and sensors by using our technique."

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