The Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) has developed a wearable robot named MOONWALK-Omni, designed to assist elderly individuals in overcoming muscle strength loss and enhancing their mobility in outdoor environments. Dr. Lee Jongwon, from the Intelligent Robotics Research Center at KIST, led the development of this innovative technology.
MOONWALK-Omni is a lightweight, strength-assistance robot that supports leg strength in various directions. It has been designed to aid in walking, similar to the reduced gravity experience of walking on the moon. A recent demonstration involved a senior citizen wearing the MOONWALK-Omni to successfully climb Mount Yeongbong in Korea, which is 604 meters above sea level. This accomplishment was notable as it was achieved without changing batteries or requiring intervention from developers, suggesting the potential for commercial application of wearable robots in complex outdoor environments.
Traditionally, wearable robots have been utilized predominantly in hospital settings for patient rehabilitation, limited by their considerable weight and size. In contrast, MOONWALK-Omni is significantly lighter, weighing only 2 kilograms, and can be donned by an older adult in less than 10 seconds without external assistance. The robot features four ultra-lightweight, high-powered actuators on each side of the pelvis, enhancing the user’s balance and boosting leg strength by up to 30 percent.
The robot employs artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze the wearer’s gait in real-time, providing muscle support in various walking scenarios, including slopes, rocky paths, and uneven steps. This technology was tested in the Bukhansan Mountain Wearable Robot Challenge, demonstrating its effectiveness in supporting muscle strength in everyday environments more complex than those found in hospitals.
An elderly participant in the challenge reported feeling rejuvenated by the experience, noting the robot allowed them to comfortably climb a mountain, an activity they feared they had to abandon due to age.
Dr. Lee Jong-won of KIST highlighted the experimental data obtained from the challenge, showing the potential for safe and effective strength support in diverse walking environments. The technology’s future applications are expected to extend beyond daily assistance to encompass rehabilitation and exercise for the elderly.
Following MOONWALK-Omni, the research team is developing MOONWALK-Support, aimed at enhancing muscle strength and supporting complex lower extremity joints such as hips and knees. Additionally, KIST has transferred core technologies and components, like motors, reducers, and computing circuits for wearable robots, to companies in Korea, thereby contributing to advancements in various fields.
Photo: An elderly man walks up a complex stone staircase environment while wearing a robot during a wearable challenge in Korea.(Bukhansan Challenge). Credit: Korea Institute of Science and Technology