Reaction moments matter when designing lower-extremity robots for tripping recovery

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Balance recovery after tripping often requires an active adaptation of foot placement. Thus far, few attempts have been made to actively assist forward foot placement for balance recovery employing wearable devices. This study aims to explore the possibilities of active forward foot placement through two paradigms of actuation: assistive moments exerted with the reaction moments either internal or external to the human body, namely 'joint' moments and 'free' moments, respectively. Both paradigms can be applied to manipulate the motion of segments of the body (e.g., the shank or thigh), but joint actuators also exert opposing reaction moments on neighbouring body segments, altering posture and potentially inhibiting tripping recovery. We therefore hypothesised that a free moment paradigm is more effective in assisting balance recovery following tripping. The simulation software SCONE was used to simulate gait and tripping over various ground-fixed obstacles during the early swing phase. To aid forward foot placement, joint moments and free moments were applied either on the thigh to augment hip flexion or on the shank to augment knee extension. Two realizations of joint moments on the hip were simulated, with the reaction moment applied to either the pelvis or the contralateral thigh. The simulation results show that assisting hip flexion with either actuation paradigm on the thigh can result in full recovery of gait with a margin of stability and leg kinematics closely matching the unperturbed case. However, when assisting knee extension with moments on the shank, free moment effectively assist balance but joint moments with the reaction moment on the thigh do not. For joint moments assisting hip flexion, placement of the reaction moment on the contralateral thigh was more effective in achieving the desired limb dynamics than placing the reaction on the pelvis. Poor choice of placement of reaction moments may therefore have detrimental consequences for balance recovery, and removing them entirely (i.e., free moment) could be a more effective and reliable alternative. These results challenge conventional assumptions and may inform the design and development of a new generation of minimalistic wearable devices to promote balance during gait.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0280158
Number of pages27
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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