Scientists build wearable ‘exomuscle’ that boosts upper body strength and endurance

Scientists have developed a wearable textile that serves as an extra layer of muscles to boost upper body strength and endurance in people with restricted mobility.

The vest, named Myoshirt, is a soft, wearable exomuscle for the upper body with cuffs for the upper arms and a small box with the technology needed for its functioning, according to the study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence.

Sensors embedded in the fabric working with a smart algorithm detect the wearer’s intentional movements and the amount of force required.

A motor then shortens a cable in the fabric that runs parallel to the wearer’s muscles and supports the desired movement, scientists from ETH Zurich in Switzerland explain.

The assistance provided by the vest is in tune with the user’s movements and can be tailored to their individual preferences, they say.

In the new research, scientists tested the functioning of the vest in 12 participants – ten people without any physical impairments, one person with muscular dystrophy (Michael Hagmann) and one person with a spinal cord injury.

“Although hospitals have numerous good therapy devices, they are often very expensive and unwieldy. And there are few technical aids that patients can use directly in their everyday lives and draw on for assistance in performing exercises at home. We want to close this gap,” said Marie Georgarakis, a former doctoral student at ETH Zurich.

The study found that all participants could lift their arms and/or objects for much longer with the help of the vest.

Researchers say endurance increased by about a third in the healthy subjects an by about 60 per cent in the participant with muscular dystrophy.

The participant with a spinal cord injury could perform the exercises three times as long, scientists noted.

“In the next phase, we want to test our prototype outside the lab in the natural environment of future wearers and use the results to further improve it,” Michele Xiloyannis, who also works at the Sensory Motor Systems Lab at ETH Zurich, said.

The vest’s actuator and control box currently weigh 4kg so the scientists hope to further reduce its size and weight so that it can be worn unobtrusively and comfortably under a person’s clothing.

They also want to further minimise the product’s size by focussing on a single core function – supporting the user’s shoulders when lifting their arms.

“What I particularly like is how the researchers are iteratively developing their ideas in collaboration with potential users,” Mr Hagmann, who has already assisted with the testing of various technical aids at ETH, said.

Douglas Mateo

Douglas holds a position as a content writer at Neptune Pine. His academic qualifications in journalism and home science have offered her a wide base from which to line various topics. He has a proficiency in scripting articles related to the Health industry, including new findings, disease-related, or epidemic-related news. Apart from this, Douglas writes an independent blog and assists people in living healthy life.

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