A soft, wearable, robotic upper limb exoskeleton garment was designed to actively control the shoulder and elbow, both positioning the limb in specific orientations and commanding the limb through desired motions. The invention was developed to provide effective upper extremity motor rehabilitation for patients with neurological impairments (e.g., traumatic brain injury, stroke).
Due to its portable, battery-compatible design, NASA’s garment allows for task-specific and intensive motor practice — an important part of rehabilitation — to be performed outside clinical environments (including in the home). In addition to upper extremity motor rehabilitation, the technology may also find applications in human performance augmentation including in future spacesuit designs.
NASA’s robotic device is “plug and play” — it includes all necessary electronics, actuation, software, and sensors required to achieve augmented limb movement. The garment is designed such that the human-robot interface distributes load across the torso, maximizing user comfort. Donning and doffing is simple, as the device lowers over the head, straps to the torso via Velcro®, and possesses adjustable custom arm cuffs. Actuators are housed in the back of the garment that pull custom conduit-tendon-based systems attached to the limb at optimized locations, causing the joint of interest to move to the specified orientation. Force sensing is employed to enable optimal control of the limb, measuring user-applied force to maintain commanded joint orientations. Integrated electronics and software provide power distribution, safety monitoring, data transfer, and data logging.
The garment has multiple modes of operation. In active assist mode, shoulder abduction and flexion, and elbow flexion may be commanded either simultaneously via coordinated control or individually while holding position/orientation of the other joints. In passive assist mode, the user can freely move the limb while the system provides minimal torque to the shoulder and elbow.