X1 – Robonaut’s spin-off exoskeleton to aid paraplegics


NASA’s Robonaut technology currently deployed at ISS, has led to development of a robotic exoskeleton which will help astronauts staying healthy in space and prove an aid to paraplegics on Earth. Weighing 57 pounds (approximately 26 kilograms), humans can wear this device over their body to inhibit or assist movements of leg joints as per requirement. In inhibit mode, intended for astronauts; this robotic device will act as an in-space exercise machine providing resistance against leg movements. On the other hand, reverse of the same can be used on ground for paraplegics, enabling them to walk.

NASA with The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) of Pensacola, Fla. and engineers from Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston have jointly developed this robotic exoskeleton dubbed X1. X1 is worn over the legs with a harness that reaches up the back and around the shoulders. It has 10 degrees of freedom, or joints — four motorized joints at the hips and the knees, and six passive joints that allow for sidestepping, turning and pointing, and flexing a foot. There also are multiple adjustment points, making X1 useful in different ways. Michael Gazarik, director of NASA’s Space Technology Program said,

“Robotics is playing a key role aboard the International Space Station and will be critical in our future human exploration of deep space. What’s extraordinary about space technology and our work with projects like Robonaut are the unexpected possibilities space tech spinoffs may have right here on Earth. It’s exciting to see a NASA-developed technology might one day help people with serious ambulatory needs to begin to walk again, or even walk for the first time. That’s the sort of return on investment NASA is proud to give back to America and the world.”

Project Engineer Shelley Rea demonstrates the X1 Robotic Exoskeleton.

As per NASA, X1 is currently in research and development phase. They are focusing on development, evaluation and improvement of the technology while examining the potential for the X1 as an exercise device to improve crew health both aboard the space station and during future long-duration missions to an asteroid or Mars. Astronauts need to perform exercises which are vital to keep them healthy in microgravity. X1 could do the job by replicating common crew exercises without taking up much of valuable space or weight during missions. Furthermore, the device can measure, record and stream back in real-time data to flight controllers on Earth, giving doctors better insight into the crew’s exercise. Here’s a video demonstration by research team –


IHMC is hoping to develop and use X1 as an assistive walking device. Combining NASA technology with walking algorithms developed at IHMC, X1 has the potential to produce high torques to allow for assisted walking over varied terrain, as well as stair climbing. Preliminary studies using X1 for this purpose have already started at IHMC. According to Ken Ford, IHMC’s director and CEO,

“We greatly value our collaboration with NASA. The X1’s high-performance capabilities will enable IHMC to continue performing cutting-edge research in mobility assistance and expand into rehabilitation.”

NASA’s Game Changing Development Program funds the X1 project, which is part of NASA’s Space Technology Program. NASA’s Space Technology Program focuses on maturing advanced space technologies that may lead to entirely new approaches for space missions and solutions to significant national needs.

Source: NASA news release

Featured image: NASA/ISS mission post

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