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SWAG Project to Revolutionise Soft Robotic Exosuits

Fri, 22 March, 2024

The objective of the EU-funded SWAG project, under the Horizon Europe programme, is to set a new benchmark in motion assistive technologies by developing fully soft, human-assistive exoskeletons. SWAG, standing for Soft Wearable Assistive Garments, will explore a fundamentally new approach to the engineering of soft, wearable robots that entirely omits rigid materials in favour of soft, inflatable ones. SWAG’s innovative approach aims to create exoskeletal devices that are carefully designed to target strain-prone areas of the human body, specifically the lower part and core.

Soft, lower extremity exosuits is one of the most challenging research topics for engineers, requiring a multidisciplinary approach involving diverse fields such as biomechanics, robotics, control systems, artificial intelligence (AI) and ergonomics. The SWAG soft structures will be developed to seamlessly adapt to the intricate motions of each joint, using high-strength fabrics and films, offering a level of flexibility and adaptability unprecedented in existing solutions. The solution proposed will support flexible and adaptable movements that humans naturally perform, inspired by continuum robots, a type of robotic system that draws from structures found in nature. This will provide comprehensive support for joints such as the ankle or hip.

The advancements of SWAG will be demonstrated in four scenarios, showcasing its transformative potential in real-world settings, including assistance for daily living and strength-building. However, its potential applications are many.

Spearheaded by TWI Hellas, based in Athens, Greece, the project consortium brings together 13 partners from six EU countries: Hellenic Mediterranean University (HMU), Bendabl, Heidelberg University, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, IUVO, Eurecat, Jožef Stefan Institute, University of Twente (UT), and Roessingh Research and Development (RRD), and the UK: University of Hertfordshire, Brunel Innovation Centre (BIC) and Imperial College London. The group boasts leading academics renowned for their expertise in diverse fields, research and technology organisations with a proven track record in developing and validating application-driven solutions, and two commercial partners committed to supporting the use and commercialisation of SWAG’s outcomes.

In SWAG, TWI Hellas is leading the development of the electronics that will be used to control the soft exosuit.  The vision is a cascading control scheme in which high-level controllers direct the exosuit’s motion based on global objectives, while low-level controllers locally manipulate individual joints.  At the same time, biomechanical data will be sampled from several points across the exosuit in real time, to inform SWAG’s body dynamics and intent-tracking models, and effectively close the control loop.

Katerina Smyrli, TWI Hellas’ Technical Manager for the project, states, “The SWAG exosuit is designed to provide an intuitive and pleasant user experience, prioritising comfort, ergonomics, autonomy and safety. This imposes novel restrictions on traditional robotics design, eliminating, for example, some of our most widely used materials due to their stiffness or weight. Thankfully, the SWAG consortium comprises highly experienced researchers from diverse disciplines who have all come together to take on the challenge.”

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