Lightweight soft exoskeleton takes shape at CCNY

In a huge boost to his quest to offer mobility to people with lower limb disabilities, City College of New York mechanical engineer Hao Su is the recipient of a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It will advance his work on a hybrid soft exoskeleton that combines the advantages of rigid exoskeletons and textile-based exosuits to overcome lower-limb impairments, particularly in seniors.

The grant will establish the Center of Assistive and Personal Robotics for Independent Living (APRIL) in the Grove School of Engineering to study assistive robotics to enhance mobility and health in community settings.

Su’s project, in the Biomechatronics and Intelligent Robotics (BIRO) lab that he heads, entails developing soft wearable exoskeletons based on soft materials, including cables, elastomers, and artificial muscles. This is in contrast to conventional designs that he said, “are typically heavy, bulky, expensive, limited in clinic-settings, and primarily suitable for paraplegic individuals with little to no remnant voluntary movement.”

“Our soft exoskeleton,” he added, “is lightweight, compact, and affordable to enhance mobility assistance in community settings for people who need partial assistance.”

Targeting seniors, the Su team is also developing actuator technologies that reduce mass and cost of robotic systems. Moreover, lightweight motors will create a new actuation paradigm called "Quasi-Direct Drive" that enables the versatility of assistive robots, namely highly compliant and highly responsive for safe interaction with humans.

“We will assess the feasibility and biomechanics effects of the robot prototypes in seniors with disabilities such as impairment, stroke, post-polio, and knee osteoarthritis,” noted Su.

The viability of the CCNY-designed exoskeleton has already been recognized. Last year, Su and his fellow researchers were finalists in the second stage of a $4 million mobility challenge.

Their entry in the challenge, “Physiology-Adaptive and Computer Vision-Assisted Soft Exoskeletons to Support Independent Living across the Continuum of Rehabilitation,” placed in the top 10 among 96 entries globally in the first round.

Members of the Su team include postdoctoral fellow Tzu-Hao Huang and collaborators James Chang, Gerard Francisco, and Richard Petty from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and TIRR Memorial Hermann, a top rehabilitation center.

About The City College of New York
Since 1847, The City College of New York has provided a high quality and affordable education to generations of New Yorkers in a wide variety of disciplines. CCNY embraces its role at the forefront of social change. It is ranked #1 by the Harvard-based Opportunity Insights out of 369 selective public colleges in the United States on the overall mobility index. This measure reflects both access and outcomes, representing the likelihood that a student at CCNY can move up two or more income quintiles In addition, the Center for World University Rankings places CCNY in the top 1.2% of universities worldwide in terms of academic excellence. More than 16,000 students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in eight professional schools and divisions, driven by significant funded research, creativity and scholarship. CCNY is as diverse, dynamic and visionary as New York City itself. View CCNY Media Kit.


Jay Mwamba p: 212.650.7580 View CCNY Media Kit.