Wearable Assistive Materials

Wearable Assistive Materials

The Institute of Making are involved in an EPSRC-funded project, led by Professor Nick Tyler in Civil Engineering, which aims to develop the materials for a wearable exoskeleton that can act as a walking support system. 

The Wearable Assistive Materials (WAM) project is part of a programme of research designed, in the long term, to make wheelchairs redundant for as many people as possible. In 2004 the Department of Health estimated that there are some 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK, with about 850,000 of these being regular users of NHS services. Although the use of a wheelchair can enable a person to move around, this comes with a cost. There is a real problem with rotator cuff tears and other shoulder problems resulting from the continued work of self-propulsion, and these injuries themselves require costly treatment.

The long-term aims of the project are to make a wearable assistive material that can support walking without the need for motors, visible splints or other perceivable supports so that people can enjoy life without having to think about accessibility for their wheelchair. This project is also based on Prof. Tyler's previous research with clinicians and users of walking support systems, and responds to what they want out of these technologies. Taking into account user requirements, this project aims to develop a system that can be worn underneath clothing, providing invisible and inaudible support.

In order to achieve this, the team need to develop a material that can extend and contract repeatedly and quickly, rather like a muscle, stiffen to perform like a bone, relax to behave like a soft material, be controllable so that the transition between stiff and relaxed is smooth, breathe like natural skin and be light enough to be worn easily.

The research team has identified three likely technologies to enable them to develop this exoskeleton, including a chemical actuator, a magnetic gel and interlockable ceramic tiles, which they will be testing separately and in combination for functionality.

For more information click here.

This research is funded by:

Wearable Assistive Materials