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What is an exoskeleton?

The field of exoskeleton systems is continuously evolving and re-inventing itself, so it is still difficult to create a singular definition.  In general:

  • Exoskeletons are wearable devices that work in tandem with  the user.  The opposite of an exoskeleton device would be an autonomous robot that works instead of the operator.
  • Exoskeletons are placed on the user’s body and act as amplifiers that augment, reinforce or restore human performance.  The opposite would be a mechanical prosthetic, such as a robotic arm or leg that replaces the original body part.
  • Exoskeletons can be made out of rigid materials such as metal or carbon fiber, or they can be made entirely out of soft and elastic parts.
  • Exoskeletons can be powered and equipped with sensors and actuators, or they can be entirely passive.
  • Exoskeletons can be mobile or fixed/suspended (usually for rehabilitation or teleoperation).
  • Exoskeletons can cover the entire body, just the upper or lower extremities, or even a specific body segment such as the ankle or the hip.

In summary, robotics is the application of engineering towards replacing humans from menial tasks, while exoskeletons is the application of robotics and biomechatronics towards the augmentation of humans in the performance of a variety of tasks.

Exoskeletons can also be referred to as: robotic suit, powered armor, exo-frame or exosuit, wearable machine, power jacket, etc…

Deriving a simple definition of what an “exoskeleton” is can be quite tricky.

Exoskeleton technology — the use of an external wearable framework that augments a human’s natural physical ability.

1 Comment on What is an exoskeleton?

  1. Here is an example of such an assistive exoskeleton:

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