A news release issued by Loughborough University reports that it will be working with six other universities in an effort to develop wearable robotics engineered to assist individuals with mobility impairments, disabilities, and age-related difficulties to move easily without assistance.

According to the release, the “smart” clothing is intended to support areas of limb injury or limited mobility to allow individuals to engage in greater degrees of physical activity.

The project, known as Wearable Soft Robotics for Independent Living is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and is due for completion by June 2018, the release says. Additional research partners include the Universities of Bristol (project leader), Stratchclyde, Southampton, Nottingham, Leeds, and the West of England.

The release notes that Russel Harris, professor of Medical Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing, is slated to lead Loughborough’s involvement in the study. The research team is based out of the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering. The team will investigate how electroactive polymers can be integrated into high performance fabrics to create clothing that is both supportive and comfortable to wear.

Harris points out in the release that some wearable options can be uncomfortable and do not always provide the correct support in the right places.

“The aim of this project is to create wearable soft robotics that represent normal clothing whilst offering comprehensive mobility support. We are delighted to be part of this project and to be able to use our expertise in the area of digital and additive manufacturing processes to make a difference to the lives of people with restricted mobility,” Harris says.

The clothing is designed to assist movement through integrating forms of artificial “muscle” made from smart materials and reactive polymers, which are capable of exerting physical force. The release states that this will be developed using advanced wearable soft robotic, nanoscience, 3D fabrication, functional electrical stimulation, and full-body monitoring technologies, all driven by the need of the end users, who will also be directly involved in the project. They will also reportedly include control systems built to monitor the wearer and adapt to give the most suitable assistance, working with the body’s own muscles.

To meet the needs of patients requiring rehabilitation, the release says the smart clothing can initially provide strong support and subsequently reduce assistance as the patient recovers mobility and strength.

The release notes that the project is part of a £5.3 million funding program announced by the EPSRC to transform the design of assistive and rehabilitative devices.

Source: Loughborough University