• Otávio Santiago

How adaptation, training, and customization contribute to benefits from exoskeleton assistance

Exoskeletons can enhance human mobility, but we still know little about why they are effective. For example, we do not know the relative importance of training, how much is required, or what type is most effective; how people adapt with the device; or the relative benefits of customizing assistance. We conducted experiments in which naïve users learned to walk with ankle exoskeletons under one of three training regimens characterized by different levels of variation in device behavior.

Assistance was also customized for one group. After moderate-variation training, the benefits of customized assistance were large; metabolic rate was reduced by 39% compared with walking with the exoskeleton turned off. Training contributed about half of this benefit and customization about one-quarter; a generic controller reduced energy cost by 10% before training and 31% afterward.

Training required much more exposure than typical of exoskeleton studies, about 109 minutes of assisted walking. Type of training also had a strong effect; the low-variation group required twice as long as the moderate-variation group to become expert, and the high-variation group never acquired this level of expertise. Curiously, all users adapted in a way that resulted in less mechanical power from the exoskeleton as they gained expertise. Customizing assistance required less time than training for all parameters except peak torque magnitude, which grew slowly over the study, suggesting a longer time scale adaptation in the person. These results underscore the importance of training to the benefits of exoskeleton assistance and suggest the topic deserves more attention.

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