In a spinoff derived from NASA's Robonaut 2 program that provided a robot assistant on the International Space Station, researchers have developed a robotic exoskeleton a human could wear over his or her body either to assist or inhibit movement in leg joints.
In the inhibit mode, the 57-pound robotic device dubbed X1 would be used as an in-space exercise machine for astronauts to supply resistance against leg movement.
The same technology could be used in reverse on the ground, potentially helping some individuals walk for the first time, NASA said.
"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," Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Program, said.
Worn over the legs with a harness that reaches up the back and around the shoulders, X1 has four motorized joints at the hips and the knees and six passive joints that allow for sidestepping, turning and pointing, and flexing a foot.
"It's exciting to see a NASA-developed technology that might one day help people with serious ambulatory needs begin to walk again, or even walk for the first time," Gazarik said.
The X1 is a joint project between NASA, The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition of Pensacola and Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston.