Overview of the project, its ideas and goals.

Most elderly persons suffer mild to acute degrees of physical and cognitive degeneration. The progressive nature of these impairments often leads to loss of independence affecting quality of life. However, it has been shown that physical mobility and cardiovascular exercise directly improves human cognitive abilities, and can reduce biological and cognitive senescence3. Therefore this proposal will develop a range of active lower-limb exoskeletal assistive solutions (Basic, Standard and Deluxe) for providing indoor and outdoor mobility to help elderly persons maintain and improve levels of physical activity for full, active and independent lives.

The exoskeleton requirements for AAL mobility demand specialised “hands-free” locomotion support/assistance to allow elderly persons to perform their normal, wide-ranging daily activities in an independent manner. These requirements include the following:

  • Indoor mobility: moving freely within confined spaces giving considerable added value over wheelchairs, be able to perform stand-sit/sit-stand manoeuvres, climb/descend stairs, step over objects, quiet standing, straight walking, turning for centimetric/metric mobility
  • Outdoor mobility: walking/turning on uneven/unstructured surfaces/soft ground, avoiding traffic, crossing roads, taking public transport (buses, trains) to go to rural/distant places, opening/closing doors, using escalators for hectometric/kilometric mobility
  • Cognitive support: provide information/advice to allow decision making when the elderly person has become lost or confused

EXO-LEGS is aimed at developing lower body mobility exoskeletons for helping people move around to perform normal daily living tasks. The motions include tasks such as standing up, sitting down, straight walking on flat ground, stepping over objects, walking on soft and uneven ground, walking up- and down-stairs, etc. EXO-LEGS will develop theoretical and modular frameworks able to realise prototype devices that can be useful for assisting human mobility. Basic, Standard and Deluxe exoskeleton prototypes (half- and full- models) will be designed, developed and tested in the five target EU countries.

The added value of the EXO-LEGS exoskeletons over current wheelchair mobility solutions is that they will provide users with the ability to travel on different types of ground (hard, soft, uneven, etc), ascend/descend stairs, and step over/reach over objects. Furthermore, the exoskeletons will have a much smaller footprint more suitable for moving around in the confined spaces within domestic houses. Since the exoskeletons mimic normal body posture, their use will have significant health benefits over wheelchairs (such as regaining normal bladder and bowel functions) as well providing the ability to exercise and increase muscle activity. It is well known that such exercising increases the cognition abilities as it increases oxygen flow to the brain giving another reason for choosing this option over wheelchairs. The EXO-LEGS project considers the development of half- and full-exoskeleton models which means that physical impairments affecting only one side of the body (e.g due to a stroke) can be more specifically accommodated than having to resort to a wheelchair.

The key to successful take-up of the EXO-LEGS exoskeleton solutions will rely on the systems being safe (complying with existing and emerging ISO/IEC safety regulations), inspire confidence in the user and be affordable via a suitable business model (rent, lease, multi-person use, prescription, etc). The EXO-LEGS project will consider all these issues in the detailed workplan.