Bullet trains, satellites and nuclear reactors may soon be joined by robotic exoskeletons on the list of bleeding-edge equipment that Hitachi manufactures if one of its most recent patent filings is an indicator. Detailed inside is a simple but ingenious variation on the concept that could bring bionic-assisted motion a big step closer towards reality for elderly suffering from joint issues.
The exoskeleton doesn’t deviate all that much from the source in its basic configuration, with the bulky computer that serves as its nervous system placed on the wearer’s back while joint braces help distribute the motion. The difference lies in the actuators that do the actual lifting, which are several times less numerous than in earlier implementations.
Instead of using a dedicated motor for each and every joint, Hitachi has implemented a special wiring grid with cables running through the scaffolding connecting the braces that allows a single actuator to control multiple braces. As a result, the exoskeleton has only one motor per leg tucked away neatly inside the controller backpack.
The reduced actuator count kills two birds with one stone, eliminating not only the weight of all those unnecessary motors but also the enlarged batteries needed to support them, which makes the exoskeleton significantly lighter and more robust. The setup is also cost-efficient, since wires tend to cost a lot less than complex hydraulic machinery.