Physical human-robot interaction of an active pelvis orthosis: Toward ergonomic assessment of wearable robots

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Background: In human-centered robotics, exoskeletons are becoming relevant for addressing needs in the healthcare and industrial domains. Owing to their close interaction with the user, the safety and ergonomics of these systems are critical design features that require systematic evaluation methodologies. Proper transfer of mechanical power requires optimal tuning of the kinematic coupling between the robotic and anatomical joint rotation axes. We present the methods and results of an experimental evaluation of the physical interaction with an active pelvis orthosis (APO). This device was designed to effectively assist in hip flexion-extension during locomotion with a minimum impact on the physiological human kinematics, owing to a set of passive degrees of freedom for self-alignment of the human and robotic hip flexion-extension axes. Methods: Five healthy volunteers walked on a treadmill at different speeds without and with the APO under different levels of assistance. The user-APO physical interaction was evaluated in terms of: (i) the deviation of human lower-limb joint kinematics when wearing the APO with respect to the physiological behavior (i.e., without the APO); (ii) relative displacements between the APO orthotic shells and the corresponding body segments; and (iii) the discrepancy between the kinematics of the APO and the wearer's hip joints. Results: The results show: (i) negligible interference of the APO in human kinematics under all the experimented conditions; (ii) small (i.e., < 1 cm) relative displacements between the APO cuffs and the corresponding body segments (called stability); and (iii) significant increment in the human-robot kinematics discrepancy at the hip flexion-extension joint associated with speed and assistance level increase. Conclusions: APO mechanics and actuation have negligible interference in human locomotion. Human kinematics was not affected by the APO under all tested conditions. In addition, under all tested conditions, there was no relevant relative displacement between the orthotic cuffs and the corresponding anatomical segments. Hence, the physical human-robot coupling is reliable. These facts prove that the adopted mechanical design of passive degrees of freedom allows an effective human-robot kinematic coupling. We believe that this analysis may be useful for the definition of evaluation metrics for the ergonomics assessment of wearable robots.

Original languageEnglish
Article number29
JournalJournal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation
Volume14
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 14 2017

Keywords

  • Active pelvis orthosis
  • Ergonomics
  • Passive degrees of freedom
  • Series-elastic actuation
  • Wearable robotics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • Health Informatics

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