Walking comes so naturally to most people that it’s easy to think of it as a simple task. In reality, every step you take is the result of a chain of complex muscle movements that you subconsciously control to remain stable and carry on a smooth gait. Replicating that with bipedal robots has proven to be a difficult, but ultimately attainable, task. Now, roboticists from Caltech are launching the RoAM Initiative to leverage that technology and help paralyzed individuals walk again.
RoAM (Robotic Assisted Mobility) is primarily the brainchild of two Caltech professors: Aaron Ames and Joel Burdick. They have each developed groundbreaking technological advances that could be the key to restoring bipedal mobility to paralyzed individuals, and they’re combining those technologies for RoAM. Ames is an expert in bipedal robotics, and has created advanced algorithms that allow robots to walk smoothly. Burdick has spent decades developing methods for stimulating the spinal cord in order to give paralyzed people some ability to move their legs, feet, and toes — even allowing them to stand for limited periods of time.
With the help of Wandercraft, a French manufacturer of exoskeletons, they’re collaborating to develop prosthetics that can help a paralyzed person walk on their own. Ames’ algorithms help to achieve a smooth, stable gait. Burdick’s spinal cord stimulation helps users control their own bodies, which takes some of the burden off of the prosthesis. Special artificial intelligence software is used to interpret the user’s intentions and find the most effective means of stimulating the spinal cord to achieve them. They are still in the very early stages of this research, but the RoAM Initiative could eventually allow those suffering from paralysis to walk again on their own.
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Author: Cameron Coward