Achievements : Publications and News
Wearable robots can assist human muscular power and mobility. The wearable robot technology has great potential in various fields from enhancing the muscular power of people without disability, e.g., workers or soldiers, to assisting and rehabilitating people with disability in walking. Professor Kyoungchul Kong¡¯s research team has developed the wearable robot technology from the sensor and actuator to the integrated robot systems. The team won a medal in the powered exoskeleton race of Cybathlon 2016 and showed a wearable robot for torch bearing of 2018 PyeongChang Paralympics. Recently, the team has also developed the world-lightest and accurate wearable robot, which is suitable even for rehabilitation of children.
Poor eyesight is not considered as a disability nowadays. However, if someone is with difficulty in walking, he/she may be called a disabled person. What is the difference? It is because the vision problem can be easily overcome by wearing glasses or contact lenses, but the walking problem has no such a complete solution yet.
Many research teams are making their best effort to find a practical and reliable solution for people with difficulty in walking. As the whole population is aging globally, and Korea is one of the most rapidly aging countries in the world, the need of the solution for people with mobility problems is increasing. Several research teams have studied a stem cell technology to regain the lost motor functions in human body, but they have failed finding a practical solution yet.
To this end, wearable robots may be a good alternative. The wearable robots are legged robots developed to assist the human motion. As they have two legs (since humans have two legs), the overall structure of wearable robots is similar to that of a humanoid robot. However, wearable robots must be operated according to the intention of a wearer, and their motions must be perfectly synchronized with the human motions. In addition, the number of degrees of freedom (namely, the number of joints in the robot) is limited, because the overall weight of wearable robots is restricted because of a comfortability issue.
Robotic Systems Control Laboratory (RSC Lab) of Department of Mechanical Engineering, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), has studied promising and reliable solutions for developing wearable robots for assisting people in different applications. The first application is human power augmentation of non-disabled persons such as soldiers or workers who are frequently subjected to physically demanding tasks. In this case, the control and design of a wearable robot may intelligently recognize the motion intention of the wearer. Therefore, the research goal was to learn and follow the human motion characteristics.
The second application of RSC Lab is developing robots for complete paraplegics. Since the motor system of complete paraplegics is not functional at all, the human motion could be dominated by the control system of the robot. RSC Lab has developed WalkON Suit, which is a wearable robot specialized for complete paraplegics. Professor Kyongchul Kong, the director of RSC Lab, and his research team won a bronze medal at the Cybathlon 2016, and they are developing a new WalkON Suit for the next competition in 2020.
The third application of RSC Lab is ones for people with partial impairments who barely move or have poor gait stability due to the weakened muscular strength. Pediatric and elderly people with muscular weakness are the target users of this application. RSC Lab has developed various fundamental technologies for this application, including actuation modules with the minimal mechanical impedance and high back-drivability, sensor modules for recognizing the human intention, and so on. Prof. Kyoungchul Kong and Prof. Dong-Wook Rha, a rehabilitation doctor of Severance Rehabilitation Hospital and Prof. Kong's research collaborator, have co-founded a spin-off company, called Angel Robotics, to complete this technology. Angel-Suit, one of the most recent wearable robots that Prof. Kong's team has developed, was revealed at Wearable Robotics Association Conference 2019 (WearRAcon19); an 11-years-old child with Spina-Bifida demonstrated walking and other various motions wearing Angel-Suit in front of many audiences.