Wearable Assistive Materials

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Civil Environmental and Geomatic Eng

Abstract

WAM is a project which started from asking a question about what would make a transformational difference to someone who is experiencing difficulties in walking. The answer was to be able to walk without visible (or audible) assistance. Following some initial work in an EPSRC project called RELEASE, WAM is starting on the road to developing just this sort of assistive technology: an exoskeleton that can be worn and that can also act as a muscle so that it can support the whole walking cycle, providing support and control to the user and enabling them to walk otherwise unaided. We have selected some of the likely possibilities from those explored during the RELEASE project and WAM will develop these further, combine them and test them against the strength, stiffness, flexion and strain requirements of the walking process. Three technologies will be explored in parallel: (1) using Vanadium Oxide (V2O5) as a chemical actuator, (2) using magnetic gels as a dynamic controllable mechanism and (3) using interlockable ceramic tiles as a surface medium.

V2O5 is able to flex when exposed to an electrostatic potential and can exhibit strength (about 10 times the strength found in skeletal muscle) so this would seem to be a useful substance to use as the basis for an actuator. Macroporous magnetic gels can be used to compress rapidly under a magnetic field to deliver drugs (by squeezing the drugs from the pores as the material compresses under the influence of an induced magnetic field). Interlockable ceramic tiles can provide the stiffness needed for the rigidity needed by a skeleton, but once unlocked an allow the structure to bend in a required direction.

These will be tested separately and in combination to see if the V2O5 working with the magnetic gel could act as a sufficiently strong actuator and key for the locking/unlocking mechanism so that the material can demonstrate sufficient strength, stiffness and strain capabilities to be worth scaling up in a future project to assist walking. Other possibilities would also be available from such material - it does not have to be used only for walking as it could be used for other joints which can need support but which also need to bend - elbow, wrist, ankle as well as knee are all candidates for such support. Also, it might provide an interesting support where it is desirable to make the assistance variable - when the person needs support and when they would benefit from being encouraged to take on the activity themselves. A variably flexible material of this sort would therefore be of use in conditions such as limb fractures (where absolutely fixed support is essential at one point on the process, but rehabilitation of associated muscles would be beneficial as the facture is healing, but is still weak, before the fixed support can be removed) or conditions such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome where support needs might vary. While the technological work is underway we will be working with a patients' group and a group of clinicians to understand more about what end users might be looking for in their assistive technology and how this particular type of support might be useful for them. It is important to realise that this is a novel way of providing dynamic support for activities such as walking and thus there is a sense of all sides needing to understand how best to use the technology as it emerges from the laboratory.

The present project will not deliver the full working prototype of a walking support system, but it will develop, test and show what can be done in terms of the material and its control system and the extent to which this approach to actuation of locomotory support could be achieved. The final tests will show how much stiffness and strength it can deliver and thus whether or not this is the right way to proceed in further projects.

Planned Impact

WAM is an early-stage (TRL 1-2) project, so we do not expect products to emerge from the project itself, but it provides the essential basic work from which novel assistive technology products will follow in due course. Therefore the impacts to be achieved from WAM are in the long term. These will be in the form of assistive technology and materials development.

Assistive Technology (AT)
WAM is generating a new approach to AT, namely that the possibility of making active support for actions that a person currently cannot - or can only with difficulty - make on their own, but that can also adjust the degree to which the support is provided. This allows for a number of possibilties in terms of rehabilitation and therapy. First, it would be possible for adjustments to be made during use. This could allow, for example, a support for a limb fracture, which is currently static, to be able to be adjusted to stimulate muscle use while the support is still in place to support the healing process and thus speed up recovery. Secondly, it allows for the support to be varied in use in order to encourage/stimulate natural muscular activity so that the AT device does not replace the natural process, but rather supplements it as required and stimulates it to become more proficient over time. Thirdly, it could provide active support for complex actions - walking, arm movements, neck movements - for people who are currently unable to achieve these at all. These types of impact on therapeutic activity will be discussed with patients and clinicians throughout the present project and the means for translation will be developed in order to be ready as the technology develops. UCL, together with UCL Partners, has 25 hospitals, including the national tertiary referral orthopaedics hospital (RNOH), and the UCL Institute of Biomedical Engineering is setting up a formal translation assistance system to accelerate translation of all biomedical engineering research into clinical practice. WAM would be inserted into this process so translation should be rapid. In addition, ASPIRE, together with its patient groups, will enable us to pursue the use of the technology directly with patients.

Materials development
WAM's ability to function as a dynamic but flexible external support system capable of supporting activities such as wrist and arm flexing, knee and hip bending, as well as supported neck rotation presents new opportunities for smart materials in other areas both within the healthcare technology field and elsewhere. We will explore how well the concept would work with other applications in the aerospace, automotive, and white goods industries, where such flexibility might offer new opportuities for supporting mechanisms which require changes in stiffness, strength and strain as part of normal operation. The interest of URT in being involved in the project shows that an innovative composites company sees some value in entering this market.

We will also develop new testing methods, new ways of analysing the interactions between pedestrians and their immediate environment so that sufficient knowledge can be gained to extend the capabilities of the assistive technology. This will potentially turn into new products and techiques which could be exploited, not only within materials and research but also in the application of rehabiltation therapies.

WAM is thus a transformative project, exploring new ways of achieving a different type of support for people requiring assistive technology to help them move around.

The impact is not only within the UK. The generic problems being tackled by WAM also apply elsewhere in the world: China, for example, currently has 67 million people using wheelchairs and is expecting a similar increase in population as the rest of the world because of increasing life expectancy.
 
Title TV Series - Everyday Miracles 
Description Two programmes that reveal the amazing stories behind everyday objects of desire and how they are miraculously transformed from raw materials into the very stuff of the modern world. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Broadcast on BBC4 in the UK. Viewing figures unknown. 
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04fd6s9
 
Description This grant is ongoing. Currently, three technologies are being explored in parallel:

(1) using Vanadium Oxide (V2O5) as a chemical actuator;
(2) using magnetic gels as a dynamic controllable mechanism;
(3) using inter-lockable ceramic tiles as a surface medium.

This project will not deliver the full working prototype of a walking support system, but it will develop, test and show what can be done in terms of the material and its control system and the extent to which this approach to
Exploitation Route The final tests will show how much stiffness and strength it can deliver and thus whether or not this is the right way to proceed in further projects. Findings will inform development of technology from a spinal cord injury user's perspective.

Findings will inform on the biomechanical needs currently satisfied by existing exoskeleton technology and propose a specific path for truly user friendly exoskeleton technology. The force sensors developed will enable researchers to fabricate low cost sensors and spread the use of Opensource technology. Once the NHS research protocol is performed, it is expected to set a standard of parameters that any elbow exoskeleton should comply with if the end user is a spinal cord injury patient with injury.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

URL http://www.cege.ucl.ac.uk/arg/WAM/Pages/WAM.aspx
 
Description This project is ongoing. Data collection ongoing, iterative process in that focus groups already undertaken inform topic guides for subsequent groups. Paper work is still ongoing before the modified orthosis can be used in human subjects in order to characterize the forces that are expected to assist in movement. The project will not deliver the full working prototype of a walking support system, but it will develop, test and show what can be done in terms of the material and its control system and the extent to which this approach to actuation of locomotory support could be achieved.
 
Description ACCA21
Amount £400,000 (GBP)
Funding ID LCCD 
Organisation Administrative Centre for China's Agenda 21 
Sector Public
Country China
Start 01/2009 
 
Description Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering - Frontier Engineering Call
Amount £4,980,773 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/K038656/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2013 
End 11/2018
 
Description JSPS Summer Programme 2016
Amount ¥900,000 (JPY)
Organisation Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) 
Sector Learned Society
Country Japan
Start 06/2016 
End 08/2016
 
Description Medical Devices and Vulnerable Skin Network Funding
Amount £16,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 07/2018
 
Description PhD Studentship
Amount £76,000 (GBP)
Organisation National University of Defense Technology 
Sector Academic/University
Country China
Start 01/2013 
End 12/2015
 
Description Socio-technical materials for prosthetic hands
Amount £230,357 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/N01006X/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2016 
End 06/2018
 
Description UK Co-laboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC) Person Environment Activity Research Laboratory (PEARL)
Amount £125,000,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P018629/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 03/2018
 
Description UKCRIC - Person Environment Activity Research Laboratory
Amount £5,000,000 (GBP)
Organisation University College London 
Department Faculty of Engineering Sciences
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 03/2022
 
Description UKCRIC Person Environment Activity research Laboratory (PEARL)
Amount £5,000,000 (GBP)
Organisation University College London 
Department Faculty of Engineering Sciences
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 03/2018
 
Title Summer studentships: research/teaching interaction 
Description The Institute of Making is not aligned with any one course and no formal teaching goes on in the space, but a great deal of informal learning and teaching happens here. We have gone to great lengths to curate the space itself in a way that encourages students, staff and researchers to interact with each other whilst using the equipment and library. By having members from diverse backgrounds and disciplines sharing the same space, they can, and do, learn from each other. This happens organically when undergraduates learn about the practice of research by working in the same space and using the same equipment as PhD students, postdocs and staff. Equally, researchers sometimes learn about making techniques from their students. Our summer studentship scheme has played a crucial role in developing teaching-research interaction; they funded an undergraduate student to do interdisciplinary research over the summer through a collaboration between two different departments. A full list of the project titles, collaborators and departments can be found in our annual report (URL below). 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2012 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact So far these summer studentships have resulted in one publication where the student was first author (Ardakani et al. 2014, see Publications), and one with the student as a subsidiary author (http://www.medphys.ucl.ac.uk/research/mle/pdf_files/west_development_of_an_ultrasound%20phantom.pdf). Of the 19 students funded, 4 have carried on into postgraduate research, and further 2 students are applying for postgraduate positions at the moment. 
URL http://www.instituteofmaking.org.uk/blog/2014/05/first-year-report
 
Description Guardian and Observer Newspaper Columnist 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I get many emails and tweets about my column, the page views are between 10,000 - 50,000 per column.

It has increased the public visibility of Materials Science and Materials Engineering. They are cited by many students as part of their UCAS entry forms as reasons they became interested in these subjects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
URL http://www.theguardian.com/profile/mark-miodownik
 
Description Institute of Making - Research Workshops and Events 2013/2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The 2013-2014 series of research workshops (listed below) engaged researchers from multiple disciplines together for the day to explore common materials and making-related research interests. These workshops typically gather together a range of speakers on a theme that spans disciplines, giving an idea of the breadth and wealth of materials and making research. The purpose of these days is explicitly to encourage new interdisciplinary research projects that draw on the expertise we have
at UCL, as well as in the Institute's wider community of researchers, makers and manufacturers.
Materials at the Centre, April 2013
3D Manufacturing, October 2013
Art History Forum, October 2013
Digital Humanities Forum, November 2013
Making Repairs, February 2014
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
 
Description Institute of Making - Research Workshops and Events 2014/2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The Institute of Making curated 14 research workshops and events in 2014-2015, reaching participants both within and outside of UCL's research community. The series of research workshops (listed below) engaged researchers from multiple disciplines together for the day to explore common materials and making-related research interests. These workshops typically gather together a range of speakers on a theme that spans disciplines, giving an idea of the breadth and wealth of materials and making research. The purpose of these days is explicitly to encourage new interdisciplinary research projects that draw on the expertise we have at UCL, as well as in the Institute's wider community of researchers, makers and manufacturers.
Dinner with Picasso: The Unspoken Language of Food, March 2014
Dinner with Picasso: Cheese - Enbracing Entropy, March 2014
Dinner with Picasso: Five Ways with Algae, March 2014
Dinner with Picasso: Green Eggs and Ham, April 2014
Materials Histories: Emotions, April 2014
Dinner with Picasso: An Oulipean Wine-Tasting, May 2014
Materials Histories: Restorations, May 2014
Materials and Society Conference, June 2014
E Fibre: Material Engagement, July 2014
Pop up Pop up, September 2014
Dinner with Picasso: Final Workshop, September 2014
Health, Safety and Creativity, October 2014
Pyrotechnics with Matthew Tosh, December 2014
Hidden Histories of Things, January 2015
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015
 
Description Institute of Making - Research Workshops and Events 2015/2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The 2015-2016 series of research workshops (listed below) engaged researchers from multiple disciplines together for the day to explore common materials and making-related research interests. These workshops typically gather together a range of speakers on a theme that spans disciplines, giving an idea of the breadth and wealth of materials and making research. The purpose of these days is explicitly to encourage new interdisciplinary research projects that draw on the expertise we have at UCL, as well as in the Institute's wider community of researchers, makers and manufacturers.

Stone as a Material, March 2015
Glass Sponges, November 2015
Exploring Curious Materials, December 2015
Open AFT/LEGO2NANO, December 2015
Engineers Save Lives, January 2016
Hands on Learning, February 2016
Co-Lab Biomaterials, February 2016
Co-Lab Biomaterials, February 2016
Design-Led Materials Finale, March 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016
 
Description Institute of Making Public Events 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We organised several different kinds of public event, ranging from talks and masterclasses run by expert makers for small groups to large scale public extravaganzas. Masterclasses and talks for the public included flintknapping with archaeologist Karl Lee, a 'smell walk' with Dr Victoria Henshaw and 'bodging' and repairing with designer Jasleen Kaur, for example. During our large open days we threw wide the doors of the Makespace and the Materials Library to the public and organised various making activities designed to appeal to seasoned makers, first-time tinkerers and families alike, and curated a themed selection of materials for visitors to explore in the Materials Library. Themes have included 'Plastic Fantastic', 'Luminescence' and 'Foam', for example. We have had many return visitors at these public open days, and the public engagement programme has inspired people to explore new areas of interest, acquire new skills, and engage with experts in diverse fields of materials research and making. For a full list of events up until March 2014, see our annual report: http://www.instituteofmaking.org.uk/blog/2014/05/first-year-report and for events since then, see the URL below.

Between 2013 and 2014 we hosted eight public open days at UCL with a total attendance of approximately 3500 including a high representation from families and children. Through these events the public get both a taste of the Makespace and Materials Library, and a chance to meet and interact with our wonderful and knowledgeable community of members. This public programme is extremely popular, with many events being booked up in less than five minutes of being released and with extensive waiting lists forming. For example, 1156 people applied to attend Roja Dove: An Olfactory Experience, for which there were only 40 spaces available. We instigated the first Festival of Materials and Making at King's College, and have instituted an annual Festival of Stuff at UCL.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2012,2013,2014
URL http://www.instituteofmaking.org.uk/events
 
Description Member of the judging panel for the Unlimited Doha Design Prize 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a Design Prize about future cities initiated by the Emirate and the British Council. The immediate event was attended by around 50 people, including the prize-winning teams, and the subsequent publicity reached a much wider audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Physics in Action Schools Talks 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Schools talks
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.thetrainingpartnership.org.uk/study-days/subjects/physics/
 
Description Public Talks 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact 1. Cheltenham Science Festival, June 25,000 visitor - https://www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/science/ - June 2017

2. New Scientist Live - Sept 30,000 visitors - https://live.newscientist.com/ - 22nd Sept 2017

3. IET Engineering Festival -http://www.engfest.org/ - 17th Oct 2017

4. Three Physics in Action talks to 800 A-level student held in London - - Nov, Dec 2017 & March 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
 
Description Science Museum Late 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was an invited display and demonstration of the proof of principle of the material as a wearable exoskeleton, a demonstration of a preliminary version of the chemical actuators. The event was one of the Science Museum's regular series 'Lates'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Student work experiences in Exoskeleton Design 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Work experience and subsequent publication in the divisional newsletter
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/surgery/news-pub/DanielTitheringtonUCLWorkExperience
 
Description Talk in Chile 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Distinguished inaugural lecture for the new MSC in city planning in the School of Architecture and Urbanism, Ponitificia Universidad Catolica Chile
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description University of Chester Christams Lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Materials Science and Engineering schools talk.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Video: The wearable exoskeleton. Invisible support for anyone on the planet 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ew6Y0cDpdek
We created a video, suitable for a lay audience, explaining our research. This is available on youtube (see above link).

Since the video has been online we have received interest from spinal cord injury patients and groups interested in our research and how they can help.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ew6Y0cDpdek
 
Description Work Wear 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Publication in Professional Engineering by Ben Sampson on exoskeletons and novel research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.imeche.org/news/news-article/work-wear