Exoskeletons often call to mind hulking full-body contraptions that give ordinary humans super-powered strength, but Patrick Slade’s turned his attention to applying the concept to the targeted task of hacking how people walk.
Slade, a postdoc at Stanford, is working on an ankle exoskeleton that might give an assistive boost to anyone with mobility issues, like the elderly, people with muscle weakness from stroke, or people with obesity. The prototype, which is basically a motorized shoe, requires careful calibration and testing. “In order to improve upon the really highly evolved ability to walk, we have to customize how we assist every person,” he said.
The goal now is to get the device out of the lab and into real-world settings to see how it performs. Currently, he’s hoping to figure out some way to manufacture the technology, taking advantage of his previous experience working on low-cost, open source design.
“If we can build say 10 or 20 or 50 of these devices and deploy them for research, that would be really amazing to understand the effects over a long term and [to] get a good scientific analysis of how we might translate these and how they might change people’s musculoskeletal health,” he said.
When he’s not toiling away on robotic enhancements to biomechanics, Slade takes advantage of California’s outdoors for climbing and hiking, and also enjoys playing guitar.
— Mario Aguilar