Wearable Soft Robotics for Independent Living

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Engineering Mathematics

Abstract

This project addresses the growing healthcare needs of people to live independently with dignity. There are 10.8 million disabled people living in the UK today (Office for Disability Issues 2010). Nearly 6.5 million have mobility impairments; 6 million have an impairment of lifting and carrying; 2.4 million have impaired co-ordination. Many of these people are supplied with assistive and rehabilitative technologies (ART), but much ART has low user acceptability and concordance, and may have a negative impact on people's perceived dignity. Many people do not use ART correctly, or at all, and many people find ART devices undignified. In extreme cases ill-fitting or ill-prescribed ART may even cause injury or increase disability. The consequence of this lack of effective and acceptable ART is that people living with mobility impairments are more prone to conditions such as poor circulation, skin pressure damage and falls. Each of these conditions has an enormous public health implication and together they constitute a substantial drain on health and social care resources. The cost of falls to the NHS is £2Bn, skin pressure damage £2.1Bn, and the overall cost of stroke to health and social care services and the loss of income is £9.8Bn.

This project will be the first time that emerging soft robotics technologies are employed to address multiple rehabilitation and health care needs in one single class of wearable device, enabling effective and comfortable rehabilitation, functional restoration and long term assisted living. In contrast to conventional rigid robotics, the inherent physical compatibility of soft robotics with biological tissue and human motion means that truly adaptive assistive and rehabilitative technologies (or aART) can be realised. Soft robotic aART has the potential to be the ubiquitous, low cost and highly adaptable technology that transforms independent living for the disabled and infirm.
The exciting challenge of this project is to develop fundamental soft robot technologies needed to deliver wearable soft robotic assistive clothing and devices that are: 1. Effective in respect to a patient and their clinical need; 2. Easy to use; and, 3. Highly adaptable. The outcome of this project will be two fully tested soft robotic wearable demonstrator devices.

Planned Impact

This proposal fits directly into the Engineering Healthcare Technologies research area. It addresses the need to optimise smart materials and soft robotics through fundamental research targeted directly at transformative healthcare. It contains not only the development of novel soft-smart sensor-actuator materials, 3D structures and additive layer manufacturing, but also their accelerated translation to application through novel compliant mechanisms, integrated design and demonstration device development. This proposal will significantly expand our understanding of the capabilities of these technologies and the functionalization and modification needed to further increase their suitability for assist applications. The proposal will contribute to addressing the EPSRC healthcare strategy of shaping capability through the funding of this multi-disciplinary and transformative project that focuses on the growing UK strength in soft robotic healthcare.
The proposal will deliver significant impact, not only through the overall potential of soft robotic medicine, but in the key areas of ageing, rehabilitation and long-term assistance in the home. It will inform clinical research being led by academic rehabilitation centres in the UK and lead to new technologies being deployed in complex healthcare interventions in the context of phase 1 clinical trials. This project will also stimulate the development of a wider range of assistive technology including smart monitoring devices, communication aids and environmental control systems, all of which would benefit from improved sensing, actuation and control.
The proposed wearable soft robotic assistive devices, encompassing novel characteristics of adaptability, comfort and user acceptability, will enhance and accelerate the rehabilitation of those in need and will have significant emotional and physical impact on both the users and their carers. Users will benefit from improvements in their overall quality of life by participating in more activities and returning to work faster.
The developed soft robotics technologies, encompassing smart materials and active compliant sensors and actuators, will have impact far beyond this project. This will include not only many applications in the healthcare, assist and rehabilitation domain (including devices to aid eating, control hypersalivation or reduce tremor), but also applications in the wider engineering field and in consumer markets. These include soft robotics for rescue, environmental remediation and human-machine interaction. The proposed new methodologies for manufacturing smart materials, soft robotic components and whole 3D devices will not only provide the incumbent design flexibility and device personalisation, but will also act as the crucial enabling technology to facilitate new forms of device functionality. Key characteristics of the materials and fabrication processes will enable highly attractive and transferable capabilities: The generation of controlled planar and non-linear multi-material constructs in order to enable novel actuation and sensory capabilities; Capability to operate with a wide range of relevant and specifically engineered materials (such as conductive, dielectric, piezo-resistive and piezo-electrics materials, and EAPs); The integration of discrete sensors with the required connections and circuitry into, and onto, flexible substrates and their associated interfacial topologies; the design and realisation of highly physically compatible actuators that can bend and twist to match the natural movements of human.

The outcome of this work will be two fully tested demonstrator systems. In addition to the first demonstrations of these new technologies in the clinical and user setting, these will provide opportunities for planned publicity and engagement activities.
 
Title 3DMe: Dialogues about prosthetic extensions, perceptions and representations 
Description Performance in relation to project outputs 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact New products developed in connection with project outputs 
 
Title UWE - User Studies artworl 
Description We have a series of cartoon illustrations from the focus groups which are very helpful to draw attention to our work, for publicity and engagement. The case illustrations from the interviews are being prepared as an illustrated report for sharing and will be available from the repository. 
Type Of Art Image 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact n/a (too early) 
 
Description We have developed new actuation technologies for soft robotics, including Dielectric Zipping Actuators and Electro-Origami. These have been published in Science Robotics, the top robotics journal. The technologies have been patented and currently business development is underway to exploit them.
Exploitation Route We have patented our technologies. Funding from the Royal Society and EPSRC IAA has been secured to develop the concepts into exploitable technologies.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

URL http://www.therighttrousers.com
 
Description Our research on electroactive actuators has been patented (UK and EU, now at per-country patent stage) and we are undertaking follow-on work funded by EPSRC IAA to develop and commercialise this work. The Right Trousers (soft robotic trousers) have received, and continue to receive, great international interest and have been featured extensively in national and international media.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Creative Economy,Electronics
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

 
Description Dielectrophoretic Liquid Zipping Actuators: technology demonstrators
Amount £14,970 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2018 
End 06/2018
 
Description Internal QR funding University of the West of England
Amount £18,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of the West of England 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2017 
End 07/2018
 
Description MRC
Amount £1,120,000 (GBP)
Organisation Medical Research Council (MRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2016 
End 12/2018
 
Description MedTech and In vitro diagnostic Co-operative
Amount £1,359,000 (GBP)
Funding ID MIC-2016-022 
Organisation NIHR Diagnostic Evidence Co-operatve 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 12/2023
 
Description Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies
Amount £1,300,000 (GBP)
Organisation Royal Academy of Engineering 
Sector Learned Society
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 02/2028
 
Description SoRo for Health: Implantable soft robotics for restoration of physiological function
Amount £1,895,192 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R02961X/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2018 
End 05/2023
 
Description Summer project internship
Amount £1,250 (GBP)
Organisation University of Leeds 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2017 
End 08/2017
 
Description Ultra-high strain electroactuators and artificial muscles
Amount £49,530 (GBP)
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 02/2020
 
Title Strathclyde cluster model 
Description Gait analysis is an important clinical tool for which numerous biomechanical models are available. Palpation of superficial bony prominences is required in traditional gait analysis in order to identify anatomical landmarks from which joint centres and axes are derived. To reduce the reliance on superficial anatomical landmarks (ALs) and to improve the reliability and accuracy in identifying joint axes, functional methods have been developed . We proposed a new cluster-based model in which all joint centre locations and knee flexion axis were determined by the functional methods, rather than from the locations of ALs. 3D lower-limb joint angles including hip, knee and ankle joints are able to be calculated by using the model. The model was programmed via VICON-MATLAB interface. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The model is potential to be used in clinical gait assessment as it performs higher inter-assessor reliability compared to traditional gait model. 
 
Title UWE - Focus Group data 
Description User profiles, transcripts and data of the focus group user perceptions will be uploaded to the UWE research data repository once analysis is complete. In the user perceptions work we have done we have collected case study illustrations of nine people with impaired mobility to prepare profiles for engineers to understand how impaired mobility affects quality of life; affecting people not just physically, but psychologically, socially and economically. We've interviewed clinicians and we've also run focus groups collaboratively with the potential users, clinicians and engineers to ensure understanding of the requirements for soft robotics. An artist provided a running visual commentary of the groups. The resulting illustrations were were engaging and helpful for summarising and checking the conversation with participants. After data collection engineers were asked to describe what they had learned from both the case profiles and the focus groups. Engineers reported learning that users have different and varied requirements and that this information would influence their choice of varied new technologies. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact n/a (too early) 
 
Title Walking activity recognition model 
Description Probabilistic model for recognition of walking activities. The output of this high-level recognition method can be used to control wearable robotic devices. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The probabilistic model, developed during this project, provides accurate and simultaneous recognition of walking activities and gait phases. These features allow the development of robust, intelligent and safe wearable robots capable to assist humans. 
 
Description A poster at Rehabweek 2017: Focus groups for co-design of soft robotic trousers for improving mobility 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A poster presentation describing the process of co-designing specification for soft robotic wearables to help people walk
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.rehabweek.org/2017
 
Description A presentation to the Royal College of Occupational Therapists Conference June 2017, 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a presentation to Occupational Therapists who work with older people. Its purpose was to show them how in the future robotic wearable devices might enable people to gain or maintain mobility for meaningful participation in daily living
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/secure/cgi/users/home?screen=EPrint%3A%3AView&eprintid=32256
 
Description BBC Click programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact BBC Click programme interview and video article on the Right Trousers. Estimated audience (BBC figures) approx 340 million.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/technology-45552016/the-hi-tech-trousers-inspired-by-wallace-and-gromi...
 
Description BBC Points West broadcast interview and article on the Robotic Trousers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact BBC Points West broadcast interview and article on the Robotic Trousers. Broadcast across whole BBC West region and on BBC website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-bristol-47002228/bristol-scientists-design-smart-trousers-w...
 
Description BBC Science article on Robotic Trousers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact BBC Science article on our Robotic Trousers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-45501069
 
Description BBC TV Series - 6 Robots and us 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact On-screen robotics expert for BBC TV series, 6 robots and us. 6 research robots were placed in family homes and filmed. My role was to analyse all footage, behaviours and interactions and to comment on the challenges, technologies and impact or robotics in the home. Extensive on-screen presence.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09l63d2
 
Description Bristol - BBC Wiltshire 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Rossiter (Bristol) was interviewed by BBC Wiltshire Radio 24 Feb 2015 about this project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Bristol - Gadget Show Live 
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 Bristol set up a Soft Robotics stand at 2016 Gadget Show Live, the largest technology show in the UK 31 Mar - 3 Apr. This stand showed 5 hands-on soft robotics demonstrators and was manned by 5 member at all time (including PI and researchers on this grant). Included dedicated soft wearable robotics demonstration from this grant. The event was attended by approx. 150,000 people. We estimate that we spoke to, and demonstrated out technologies to, over 4000 people at our stand. PI (Rossiter) also gave a talk on soft robotic wearable technologies in the Connect Arena, with an audience of approx. 500.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Bristol - Sun Article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Centre-page spread in the Sun newspaper, 29-09-2015 on wearable robotics and articles on this smart trousers project and on PI (Rossiter) on soft robotic bionic devices.

Approx. circulation 2 million
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Bristol - TED Talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact PI (Rossiter) gave a TEDx at Warwick on 5 March 2016 which was then selected by TED to be elevated to the top spot on the main TED.COM website on 22 Feb 2017. In the last 3 weeks (up to researchfish submission closure) the talk had been viewed 694,635 times. This was the only TExWarwick talk to be elevated and it is extremely rare to be elevated to the top spot of TED.COM. Only about 100 talks from around the worlds are selected for this.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_rossiter_a_robot_that_eats_pollution
 
Description CBS broadcast on Robotic Trousers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact USA Broadcast article on our Right Trousers technologies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.cbsnews.com/news/robotic-pants-to-aid-mobility-replace-wheelchairs-researchers-say/
 
Description Henry Moore institute - Opening talk at public discussion on Prosthetics 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact As part of the part of the Henry Moore Institute's event of 'The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics' (https://www.henry-moore.org/whats-on/2016/07/21/the-body-extended-sculpture-and-prosthetics) I provided the opening talk at the public event of '3DMe: Dialogues about prosthetic extensions, perceptions and representations' on Saturday 22nd October
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.henry-moore.org/whats-on/2016/07/21/the-body-extended-sculpture-and-prosthetics
 
Description Invited speaker at the IEEE Workshop on Functional 3D Additive Manufacturing, Tokyo-Japan 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The event was a one-day workshop to initiate collaboration with professional teams from Japan. I was invited by the IEEE in Tokyo to deliver a talk to around 70 business leaders who work in the electronic and automation sectors.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.ieee-jp.org/section/tokyo/chapter/CPMT-21/20171128/index.html
 
Description Leeds - Henry Moore Inst 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact As part of the part of the Henry Moore Institute's event of 'The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics' (https://www.henry-moore.org/whats-on/2016/07/21/the-body-extended-sculpture-and-prosthetics) Harris (Leeds) gave the opening talk at the public event of '3DMe: Dialogues about prosthetic extensions, perceptions and representations' on Saturday 22nd October.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation at 14th Congress of the European Forum for Research in Rehabilitation EFRR May 2017, Glasgow 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This was a platform presentation to rehabilitation researchers (international), the purpose was to illustrate how we engaged patients and carers to determine the specification for the soft robotic wearables to aid mobility
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentation at 1st Strathclyde Researcher Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We presented our novel gait analysis model and researchers from other disciplinaries showed their interest in our work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentation at InnovationMatch MX 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation of the methods developed for recognition of locomotion activities and control of wearable robots
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentation at InnovationMatch MX (Rodrigo Solis-Ortega) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Mr Rodrigo Solis-Ortega presented his research on soft materials for wearable robots
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentation on European Forum for research in Rehabilitation 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presented our novel model of functional knee joint centre calibration and its potential application to clinical professional mainly, attracted the attention of using functional calibration instead of manual anatomical marker placements in gait assessment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Southampton - BBC Solent 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Freeman (Southampton) was interviewed by BBC Radio Solent on 30 March 2015 about this research project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Southampton - Science and Engineering Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Chris Freeman group had a stand at the Science and Engineering Festival at the University of Southampton on 12th March 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Special Seminar at Sheffield Robotics 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact On December 2017, Uriel Martinez-Hernandez was invited to give a talk on the Special Christmas Seminar series at Sheffield Robotics, University of Sheffield.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Talk at Young Scholars for PEIYANG Forum, China 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I presented my work and the soft robotics project in the forum, which sparked discussion afterwards. The lab in Tianjin University showed great interest in the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description UWE - Bristol Community Radio 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Turton (UWE) was interviewed by Bristol Community Radio June 2015 about this project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description UWE - Focus Groups 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Patients, carers and/or patient groups
Results and Impact Three focus groups were conducted with potential end users of the wearable soft robotic assist devices and technologies developed on this project. They interested directly with the engineers, clinicians and technologies. The events were recorded as cartoons by a professional illustrator. These focus groups provided a rich record of patient and user opinions that help to steer the research context.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description University Visit encouraging young students to pursue with research in additive manufacturing - Nottingham Trent Technology Seminars 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact It was a talk for a series of seminars that Nottingham Trent University organised. I was invited to deliver a seminar in early March 2018 to undergraduate students to encourage them to pursue with research in general and in particular at additive manufacturing (AM) including AM of soft robotics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018