Researchers develop exoskeletons with customizable settings to boost customer satisfaction.
Exoskeletons should offer the right level of assistance at the right time to cooperate with a user’s muscles. Therefore, it needs a smooth interaction with its user. Hence, a team of researchers from the University of Michigan developed ankle exoskeletons with customizable settings. As a result, users can now directly do it according to their preferences instead of requiring an expert to retune an exoskeleton. Kim Ingraham, a mechanical engineering Ph.D. graduate and the first author of the Science Robotics study, remarked that “Instead of a one-size-fits-all level of power, or using measurements of muscle activity to customize an exoskeleton’s behavior, this method uses active user feedback to shape the assistance a person receives.”
Moreover, asking users to choose between various settings is time-consuming and masks how they will affect the user experience together. So, by enabling users to manipulate the settings themselves, the hard to detect preferences can be easily measured. Additionally, users can efficiently match their favored level of comfort, power, or stability, with other settings, without an expert. Ingraham noted that “To be able to choose and have control over how it feels will help with user satisfaction and adoption of these devices in the future.” He further added, “No matter how much an exoskeleton helps, people won’t wear them if they are not enjoyable.”
The tests conducted and their results
The Michigan team conducted tests to prove the system’s viability by providing users with Dephy-powered ankle exoskeletons and a touch-screen interface displaying a blank grid. Then, the first-time exoskeleton users were to find their preferences while walking on a treadmill. They were able to figure it out in one minute, 45 seconds. The researchers were surprised at the precision of the preferences selected by the users since they were unaware of the parameters they were tuning, choosing preferences on just how they felt.
Moreover, the preferences varied according to the people’s experience using the exoskeleton. Consequently, users preferred a higher level of assistance after gaining more insight into how an exoskeleton worked. Therefore, this method can help enhance customer experience by enabling users to maneuver their preferences directly.
Elliott Rouse, the senior author of the study, assistant professor, and a crucial faculty member of the Robotics Institute, commented that “Exoskeletons with customizable settings are motivated by our desire to develop exoskeletons that go beyond the laboratory and have a transformative impact on the society.” He also said, “Next is answering why people prefer what they prefer, and how these preferences affect their energy, muscle activity, and physiology, and how we could automatically implement preference-based control in the real world. Finally, assistive technologies must provide a meaningful benefit to their users.”