Featured in the latest Nature Scientific Reports; New Finite Element Method (FEM) models predict behaviour of wearable robots to improve their design and performance… Read more
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Wearable soft robotic systems are enabling safer human-robot interaction and are proving to be instrumental for biomedical rehabilitation. In this manuscript, we propose a novel, modular, wearable robotic device for human (lumbar) spine assistance that is developed using vacuum driven, soft pneumatic actuators (V-SPA). The actuators can handle large, repetitive loads efficiently under compression. Computational models to capture the complex non-linear mechanical behavior of individual actuator modules and the integrated assistive device are developed using the finite element method (FEM). The models presented can predict system behavior at large values of mechanical deformations and allow for rapid design iterations. It is shown that a single actuator module can be used to obtain a variety of different motion and force profiles and yield multiple degrees of freedom (DOF) depending on the module loading conditions, resulting in high system versatility and adaptability, and efficient replication of the targeted motion range for the human spinal cord. The efficacy of the finite element model is first validated for a single module using experimental results that include free displacement and blocked-forces. These results are then extended to encompass an extensive investigation of bio-mechanical performance requirements from the module assembly for the human spine-assistive device proposed.