Slip-triggered wearable robot twists elderly people’s hips to prevent falls

Enlarge / A prototype of the exoskeleton (credit: Hillary Sanctuary / EPFL)

With a slip and a twist, a robotic device that fits around an elderly person’s pelvis can avert a perilous tumble, Italian researchers report in Scientific Reports.

The device—like the shorts version of exoskeleton pants—can sense an impending fall within 350 milliseconds and apply torque directly to the erring limb. The robotic hip-twist corrects the person’s center of mass and successfully sidesteps a fall. In early trials using a prototype, eight elderly people and two elderly people with prosthetic legs were all able to stay upright while walking on a shifting treadmill designed to trigger stumbles.

The researchers are hopeful that their device, called the Active Pelvis Orthosis, or APO, could firmly improve the health of the elderly. Each year, millions of people 65 and older suffer falls. They’re the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in that demographic, causing 95 percent of hip fractures and most traumatic brain injuries. The resulting health care costs are an estimated $31 billion each year in the US alone.

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