Ankle Exoskeleton Augments People with an Electroadhesive Boost

Steve Collins, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, and his team have created a sophisticated, functional device to be used in exoskeletons that compensate for a person's disability or enhance their athletic performance. Last year, his team created a lightweight, unpowered, wearable exoskeleton - the walking assist clutch - that reduced the energy expended in walking, a feat that scientists have been attempting unsuccessfully for more than a century. Building on that research, Collins' team wanted to create a general-purpose clutch that offered increased functionality while being lightweight and consuming very little energy. Their new electroadhesive device is three to 30 times lighter than other clutch mechanisms with the same holding force, it consumes 340 to 750 times less energy compared to previous devices, and it operates at four to 20 times lower voltage than previous electrostatic components in robots. For materials conducive to electroadhesion, they found the right combination in aluminum, Mylar®, and Luxprint® (an insulating material developed by DuPont™) that could easily integrate into a wearable system.