3D-PRINTED SOFT WEARABLE ROBOTIC EXOSKELETON – TOWARDS A HIGHLY CUSTOMIZABLE AND PERSONALIZED ASSISTIVE AND REHABILITATION DEVICE
Hong Kai Yap, Chen Hua Yeow
National University of Singapore, Singapore
The last decade has seen developments of robotic technology with the ability to carry out repetitive tasks have long been in use to assist caregivers in the rehabilitation process. The exoskeleton is one of such devices but these devices are traditionally rigid and uncomfortable during the period of wearing. Additionally, it is currently limited to clinical environments, thus patients often have a hard time to continue receiving therapy when they go back home. Thus, there is a need to develop a device that can be used in a clinic at the beginning, and then can be brought back home to continue daily therapy. The development of soft robotic exoskeleton provides a more comfortable method of carrying out rehabilitative exercises. They are flexible in nature and does not restrict the movements for increased comfort during use. By enabling a low profile and lightweight device, the patients will have increase access to high doses of rehabilitation therapies and greater chances to recover. This work presents a novel technique for direct 3D printing of soft wearable exoskeleton using 3D printers. Existing fabrication techniques for the components of wearable exoskeleton, such as soft pneumatic actuators, are normally time-consuming and involve multi-step processes. A low-cost opensource consumer 3D printer and a commercially available printing material were identified for printing soft pneumatic actuators with complex inner geometry and high degree of freedom. We characterized the performances of the actuators in terms of their bending capability, output forces, and durability. Using the 3D printed actuators, we have developed wearable hand and wrist exoskeletons that are highly customizable and personalized to the users. The proposed technique is the first-in-class approach to directly 3D print soft pneumatic actuators for wearable robotic exoskeleton applications.