Hum Factors. 2022 Jul 11:187208221113625. doi: 10.1177/00187208221113625. Online ahead of print.
OBJECTIVE: This study examined the interaction of gait-synchronized vibrotactile cues with an active ankle exoskeleton that provides plantarflexion assistance.
BACKGROUND: An exoskeleton that augments gait may support collaboration through feedback to the user about the state of the exoskeleton or characteristics of the task.
METHODS: Participants (N = 16) were provided combinations of torque assistance and vibrotactile cues at pre-specified time points in late swing and early stance while walking on a self-paced treadmill. Participants were either given explicit instructions (N = 8) or were allowed to freely interpret (N=8) how to coordinate with cues.
RESULTS: For the free interpretation group, the data support an 8% increase in stride length and 14% increase in speed with exoskeleton torque across cue timing, as well as a 5% increase in stride length and 7% increase in speed with only vibrotactile cues. When given explicit instructions, participants modulated speed according to cue timing-increasing speed by 17% at cues in late swing and decreasing speed 11% at cues in early stance compared to no cue when exoskeleton torque was off. When torque was on, participants with explicit instructions had reduced changes in speed.
CONCLUSION: These findings support that the presence of torque mitigates how cues were used and highlights the importance of explicit instructions for haptic cuing. Interpreting cues while walking with an exoskeleton may increase cognitive load, influencing overall human-exoskeleton performance for novice users.
APPLICATION: Interactions between haptic feedback and exoskeleton use during gait can inform future feedback designs to support coordination between users and exoskeletons.