Scientists such as Dr. Jonathan Rossiter from the University of Bristol think they may make traditional mobility aids obsolete. How? With “smart trousers” that help disabled and elderly users walk.
The smart trousers would be a form of soft robotics, a new field of robotics focused on making all components in the robot soft and flexible, allowing them to move in ways previous robots couldn’t. The trousers would “use artificial ‘muscles’ made from smart material and reactive polymers which are capable of exerting great force.”
These futuristic pants would have a variety of applications. They could sense when the wearer is unsteady, and help keep the wearer from falling. They could give the wearer a needed boost of strength when sitting, standing, or climbing stairs. And they could even help rehabilitate injured wearers, by initially providing strong support, then slowly reducing the amount of support as the wearer regains their own strength.
Right now the trousers are just theoretical. The scientists will begin working on the project in July, thanks to funding from the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, a UK government agency that funds research and training in engineering and physical sciences.
Only time will tell if these smart trousers are good enough, or cost effective enough, to replace traditional mobility aids such as walkers, rollators, crutches, and wheelchairs. But hopefully the scientists will come up with something new and cool to help improve the lives of the disabled and elderly.