Wearable robot or dancing suit?

08 February 2009

Question

My question is: a year or two ago I was daydreaming of a light suit of armour that folk could put on and it would help uncoordinated fools such as myself to do taiji or ballroom dancing either by giving me an electrical prod in the left leg or right leg or right arm or whatever. Any comments?

Answer

We put this to Noel Sharkey, Professor of Robotics, University of Sheffield.

I don't think anybody has a plan to make a suit like that but I think that now your listener has said it someone might do it. My immediate thoughts are the exoskeleton suits that have been developed by the American military and also by the Japanese company called Cyberdyne. They're leasing these exoskeleton suits to elderly people at the moment. What it is, is you put the suit on your body. It's very thin, lightweight metal and it goes up your body so it will detect how your muscles are moving and then move as you want. It'll lift you out of your chair, you can run upstairs and you can lift heavy weights. I know they can be remote-controlled so you could have somebody remote controlling it and getting you to do the right dance steps or you could programme it to do the right dance steps. Another point I thought was that maybe you could use one of those sensitive dance floors. An ex student of mine has developed one at the University of Limerick, Niall Griffiths. What it is, is a floor covered with pressure sensors. Irish dancers can use this floor and it's made up of squares. The squares will light up to make the dancer know where to go. If they put their foot on it there's a pressure sensor that detects where they've gone.

What could happen in combining the suit and the sensor floor is the floor could light up and let the person know where to go. If they didn't go there immediately the suit could go there for them and give them feedback. That would be my solution.

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