Robotic ‘SuperLimbs’ could help moonwalkers recover from falls | Science & Technology

Need a moment of levity? Try watching videos of astronauts falling on the moon. NASA’s outtakes of Apollo astronauts tripping and stumbling as they bounce in slow motion are delightfully relatable.

For MIT engineers, the lunar bloopers also highlight an opportunity to innovate.

“Astronauts are physically very capable, but they can struggle on the moon, where gravity is one-sixth that of Earth’s but their inertia is still the same. Furthermore, wearing a spacesuit is a significant burden and can constrict their movements,” says Harry Asada, professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “We want to provide a safe way for astronauts to get back on their feet if they fall.”

Asada and his colleagues are designing a pair of wearable robotic limbs that can physically support an astronaut and lift them back on their feet after a fall. The system, which the researchers have dubbed Supernumerary Robotic Limbs or “SuperLimbs” is designed to extend from a backpack, which would also carry the astronaut’s life support system, along with the controller and motors to power the limbs.

The researchers have built a physical prototype, as well as a control system to direct the limbs, based on feedback from the astronaut using it. The team tested a preliminary version on healthy subjects who also volunteered to wear a constrictive garment similar to an astronaut’s spacesuit. When the volunteers attempted to get up from a sitting or lying position, they did so with less effort when assisted by SuperLimbs, compared to when they had to recover on their own.

The MIT team envisions that SuperLimbs can physically assist astronauts after a fall and, in the process, help them conserve their energy for other essential tasks. The design could prove especially useful in the coming years, with the launch of NASA’s Artemis mission, which plans to send astronauts back to the moon for the first time in over 50 years. Unlike the largely exploratory mission of Apollo, Artemis astronauts will endeavor…

Source www.sciencedaily.com

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