Controller synthesis and clinical exploration of wearable gyroscopic actuators to support human balance

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Gyroscopic actuators are appealing for wearable applications due to their ability to provide overground balance support without obstructing the legs. Multiple wearable robots using this actuation principle have been proposed, but none has yet been evaluated with humans. Here we use the GyBAR, a backpack-like prototype portable robot, to investigate the hypothesis that the balance of both healthy and chronic stroke subjects can be augmented through moments applied to the upper body. We quantified balance performance in terms of each participant’s ability to walk or remain standing on a narrow support surface oriented to challenge stability in either the frontal or the sagittal plane. By comparing candidate balance controllers, it was found that effective assistance did not require regulation to a reference posture. A rotational viscous field increased the distance healthy participants could walk along a 30mm-wide beam by a factor of 2.0, compared to when the GyBAR was worn but inactive. The same controller enabled individuals with chronic stroke to remain standing for a factor of 2.5 longer on a narrow block. Due to its wearability and versatility of control, the GyBAR could enable new therapy interventions for training and rehabilitation.