The Disruptive podcast series have released several episodes from the Harvard University, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering concerning Bio-Inspired Wearable Robotics. This podcast is led by Conor Walsh, Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Conor has a Ph.D. degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2010, is the founder of the Harvard Biodesign Lab and a Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute.
The podcast is divided into seven segments:
The first segment of the podcast features an introduction to Dr. Conor Walsh, the motivation for his research and how he started working with exoskeletons at the Open Media Lab under Hugh Herr.
In the second part, Dr. Walsh explains the rationale and the unique opportunities of merging soft robotics and wearable robotics research. Rather than creating a rigid traditional exoskeleton, Dr. Walsh wants to create a soft, lightweight assistive device that generates a small amount of force at the right place at the right time.
In the third segment, the podcast concentrates on the Wyss Institute Exosuit submission to the DARPA Web Project. If you are not familiar with the Wyss Exosuit project or need a refresher, see the introductory video below. For even more detailed information you can visit the Soft Exosuit Biodesign Lab Website:
Different variations and iteration of this soft exosuit have been in testing by DARPA and the US Army Research Laboratory in 2014 and 2015. To my knowledge this is a great achievement because this is the first exoskeleton device to return to testing two years in a row rather than being flat out rejected. Reports indicate that in 2015 a single Wyss soft exosuit made it through a test course. The suit showed promising results on flat and even terrain, but still needed optimization for uneven or inclined paths as well as an increase in the device durability.
In the fourth segment, Dr. Walsh transitions into flexible sensors. The key feature of the Wyss exosuit is that it generates low levels of actuations at a precisely controlled time. Therefore the exosuit relies on the quality of the flexible sensors, otherwise the timing will be off and the wearable device will fail to provide any benefit to the user.
In the fifth segment, Dr. Walsh explains the Wyss Soft Robotic Glove that we featured in our November Inflatable Soft Robotic Glove Exoskeletons article. The podcast goes into a lot of detail on the glove project, including the importance of physical appearance and esthetics to the initial test pilots.
In the sixth segment, the Disruptive podcast discusses the advantages of the Wyss Institute. Members of the institute are always looking for ways to expand the scope of their technological research to avoid becoming a forgotten academia project. The Wyss Institute actively thinks on how its research can be commercialized, but is also interested in open source projects such as the Soft Robotics Toolkit.
In the final seventh segment, Dr. Walsh makes predictions on what is coming in the next 20 years. He predicts that hardware is going to catch up to the progress software has made over the past few years. Robotics will start entering our daily lives, though most likely future consumers will not recognize the devices as robots, even if they have all of the tell-tale parts such as motors, sensors and controllers.
The full list of the Disruptive Wyss Podcasts, which includes other topics such as swarm robotics and bio-inspired materials, can be found on the Wyss Institute Website and/or at SoundCloud. The podcast on bio-inspired materials does not directly relate to wearable robotics but emphasizes the commitment of the Wyss Institute to re-invent basic robotics to be closer to what is found in nature. The main topic is the development of a tiny fly robot and the challenges the team had to overcome (for example, there was no commercially available battery that was small enough).