Appl Ergon. 2022 Sep;103:103768. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2022.103768. Epub 2022 Apr 20.
Wearable robotic systems, such as exoskeletons, are designed to assist human motion; however, they are typically only studied during level walking. Before exoskeletons are broadly integrated into unstructured environments, it will be important to evaluate exoskeletons in a broader set of relevant tasks. A balance beam traverse was used to represent a constrained foot placement task for examining balance and stability. Participants (n = 17) completed the task in their own shoes (Pre-Exoskeleton and Post-Exoskeleton trials), and when wearing a lower-limb exoskeleton (Dephy ExoBoot) in both powered and unpowered states. Data were collected via inertial measurement units (on the torso and feet) and analyzed on a pooled level (with data from all participants) and on an individual level (participant-specific confidence intervals). When examining pooled data, it was observed that the exoskeleton had mixed effects on stride stability metrics. When compared to the Post-Exoskeleton shoe control, it was observed that stride duration was increased when wearing the exoskeleton (both powered and unpowered states), while normalized stride length and stride speed were not affected. Despite the changes in stride stability, overall balance (as measured by torso sway) remained unaffected by exoskeleton state. On an individual level, it was observed that not all participants followed these general trends, and within each metric, some increased, some decreased, and some had no change in the Powered Exoskeleton condition when compared to the Post-Exoskeleton Shoe condition: normalized stride length (0% increased, 12% decreased, 88% no change), stride duration (35% increased, 0% decreased, 65% no change), and torso sway (0% increased, 12% decreased, 88% no change). Our findings suggest that the lower-limb exoskeleton evaluated can be used during tasks that require balancing, and we recommend that balancing tasks be included in standards for exoskeleton evaluation.