Myoshirt, a New Wearable Exomuscle to Strengthen the Upper Body

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Any physical disability, no matter how minor, can affect how a person lives and moves. Working can be difficult or impossible, as a disability can affect a person differently. Physical disabilities limit someone’s overall functioning, stamina, and movement. 

The condition can be permanent, long-term, or temporary. The cause of the disability may be genetic, illness or injury. According to the CDC, the most common type of disability affecting most people is movement-related, such as arthritis and other musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), like tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendon or muscle strains, etc. Symptoms include a lower range of motion, swelling, pain, and stiffness. 

Musculoskeletal disorders make it difficult for persons to move comfortably, with issues such as joint injuries, repetitive strain, and back pain. Likewise, those with physical abilities in their upper body find lifting or moving things difficult. 

A wearable solution

ETH Zurich researchers engineered a wearable fabric vest that acts as an additional layer of muscles. The researchers created fabric vests for disabled people to give them stability and strength. In their press release, they said they want to provide people with disability have a technical aid they can use directly every day, one that is not unwieldy and expensive. 

Introducing the Myoshirt

The researchers at ETH Zurich called their invention the Myoshirt. The vest-like tech aid has cuffs for the upper arms and a small box that houses the technology that the body does not use directly. Instead, the sensors embedded in the fabric determine the intentional movements of the wearer and the amount of force the user requires. A motor will shorten a cable within the material that runs parallel to the muscles of the user, working like an artificial tendon that supports the movement. 

Myoshirt is now a part of the growing number of devices classified as wearable technology, which is increasingly becoming important to people with or without disabilities. Wearables increase productivity, improve speed, and enhance task accuracy. As a result, people with disabilities can regain functions of their limbs, allowing them to be productive. 

ETH Zurich’s Myoshirt is an exomuscle or textile-based wearable robot, which follows the user’s movements autonomously. The vest assists the user’s shoulder against gravity, helping the shoulder with functional reaching tasks. In addition, the vest can provide people with impairments in their upper limbs to achieve personal independence. 

They added that the device offers support that is always in tune with the movements of the user and tailored to the user’s preferences. The user also maintains control of the device and can even override it if the user wishes. 

According to the researchers, they tested the device on 12 participants. Ten participants had no physical disability, while one subject had spinal cord injury and the other had muscular dystrophy. All of them could lift their arms and objects much longer when they used the vest. 

Improved endurance 

The test results showed that using the intuitive vest increased the participants’ endurance. The healthy participants’ endurance increased by around a third. The subject with muscular dystrophy’s endurance increased by 60 percent, and the person with spinal cord injury performed exercises thrice as long. 

The research team plans to test Myoshirt in different settings. They intend to try their prototype vest outside their laboratory for the next phase. They want to see it perform in the natural environment of the people who will wear them in the future. After that, they said they would use the results to improve Myoshirt further. 

Myoshirt is not yet ready for commercial use, according to the researchers. Its control and actuator box weigh four kilograms right now, making it impractical and cumbersome. However, for people struggling with physical disabilities, Myoshirt is an excellent first step to a future where they can control their movements better.