Roam Robotics have revealed a robotic-powered exoskeleton designed to superpower your knees during skiing and snowboarding. The wearable technology straps onto the user's thigh, connected to a backpack, and is designed to aid mobility.
The exoskeleton uses sensors which pick up on the users intent, automatically adjusting torque at the knee via air actuators, effectively mimicking the quadriceps muscles. The device is fully programmable and automated, but with manual overrides thus always keeping users in control. Wearers can use a partnering app to set their preferred mode and keep track of their performance statistics.
With the exoskeleton skiers, Roam Robotics says skiers will be able to take on more challenging terrain, make stronger turns, or simply minimise the strains and pains. The exoskeleton also offers additional support as it absorbs the shock.
The gadget is powered by soft pneumatic actuators and will be able to be rented at ski resorts for way less than it's full purchase price. The company says that without training at all, it will enable you to ski better for longer without getting tired. The pneumatic actuator has loads of advantages, both for exoskeletons specifically and robotics in general. Rather than focusing on the softness aspects of pneumatic actuators, Roam Robotics is instead leveraging the order of magnitude cost and weight reduction. Overall, the pneumatic system is a bit more complex, and it's not going to give a skier the same performance as an electric motor would. But in an assistive exoskeleton application, you may not care about those things nearly as much as you do about weight and cost.
As you bend your knees, pressurised air is pumped into the nylon actuator, which expands to provide some counterforce between the ski boot that the exoskeleton is attached to on one end and your quad on the other.
The company is currently in prototype stage, although their first commercial devices are intended to be available for rent and sale in January 2019. To buy they will cost skiers around $2,000 to $2,500. In the meantime have a look at the exoskeleton in action below.