Review: DNSYS X1 Powered Exoskeleton

When I received an offer to review the DNSYS X1, I couldn’t pass it up. A wearable motorized exoskeleton? That’s sci-fi stuff!

Cameron Coward
3 months agoWearables / Sports

I have reviewed many gadgets and gizmos over the years, and I think the DNSYS X1 exoskeleton is easily the most unique. But is it actually useful or just a novelty? In this review, I will attempt to answer that question.

The DNSYS X1 is available on Kickstarter right now. It is a wearable exoskeleton device that straps onto the user’s lower body and uses electric motors to provide walking assistance. A control unit built into the device utilizes AI algorithms to sync the motors to the user’s gait, with the stated goal of creating a seamless experience.

When I received an offer to review the DNSYS X1, I couldn’t pass it up. A wearable motorized exoskeleton? That’s sci-fi stuff! And I’ve done quite a lot of hiking and backpacking in my life, so the concept intrigued me.

However, I was also skeptical — as I’m sure you are. To keep things honest, I filmed my experience with the DNSYS X1 from the beginning if you’d like to see it for yourself:

Fit and comfort

Before even diving into the performance, let’s get the most important factor out of the way: comfort.

For the sake of comparison, I will say that I’m a 5’11” man weighing in at about 180lbs. My jeans have a waist measurement of 34”.

I found the DNSYS X1 to be fairly comfortable. I wore the belt on the top of my hip bones, like you would with the waist belt on a heavy pack. There is waist size adjustment in two places: a sliding mechanism on the back and the Velcro straps on the front. Together, they provide quite a lot of range. I can’t find specs, but this should fit most people.

The thigh straps also offer a lot of adjustment, but I think this may be more limiting. Those with large thighs could find the straps too tight. That seems like it would be easy to address with an extension of some kind, but nothing like that was included with my review unit.

There was never a time when I forgot that I was wearing the DNSYS X1, but I also didn’t feel like it was particularly restrictive. It is heavy enough that you notice the weight, but not so heavy that it seemed like a burden.

I will say that you’ll probably want to wear the DNSYS X1 with pants. When I tested it while wearing shorts, I did experience some chafing from the thigh straps.

Power and usability

My first attempt to test the DNSYS X1 was... confusing. You can see this in the video. It wasn’t at all obvious how I was supposed to activate the exoskeleton’s different functions or adjust the settings. The manual didn’t match my device and wasn’t very clear.

I imagine that those issues will be addressed before the public release, but I felt like they were worth mentioning.

The X1 has two modes: Assist and Workout. In Assist Mode, it uses the motors to help you move your legs and makes walking easier. In Workout Mode, it does the opposite and uses the motors to create resistance. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure that out.

I didn’t use the Workout Mode much, because I was much more interested in the Assist Mode. I imagine most users will feel the same way. If you want to make a run more difficult, there are much more affordable ways to do so that don’t require batteries.

The Assist Mode has several different power levels. At the lower levels, I genuinely had a hard time noticing if the DNSYS X1 was even working. At the higher levels, it is obvious. But is it helpful?

I tested the DNSYS X1 for both casual walking on level ground and for more strenuous hiking. In both situations, I really had to pay attention in order to decide if I felt like it was helping. It definitely wasn’t providing so much assistance that moving obviously required less effort.

For normal walking, I don’t think many people would find the DNSYS X1 worthwhile. It doesn’t help enough to warrant purchasing the device, charging the batteries, and going through the hassle of putting it on.

However, there does seem to be more potential when it comes to hiking. At the point where your legs start feeling heavy, it provides some relief. It won’t make hiking effortless, but it can reduce the amount of effort required.

AI performance

A big factor here is the DNSYS X1’s AI, which decides when and how to move the motors. Ideally, it would sync up perfectly with the wearer’s movement.

In practice, I found that it mostly worked well. When I was actually walking, it seemed to keep up well and felt natural.

But at times, it did do some weird stuff. This would usually happen when I stopped walking suddenly. The DNSYS X1 would then do a sort of “jitter,” like it didn’t realize I stopped. That wouldn’t be a big deal, except that it can take you by surprise. It seems possible that this could cause a person to lose their footing, which might be a problem on a hiking trail. That said, I don’t think that is very likely.

Other than that, I generally felt like the AI was working as it should.

Even when I transitioned to running, the AI didn’t have any trouble understanding what I was doing. It adapted to the faster movement without any noticeable delay and that is pretty impressive.

Style

Let’s just address the elephant in the room here, y’all. You will feel like a big ol’ dork wearing the DNSYS X1 out in public.

Is that fair? Probably not. Should we care? No. Do most people care? Absolutely.

I felt very self-conscious wearing this exoskeleton. I could feel eyes on me and though nobody asked about it, I felt a strong urge to explain what it was.

The concept is very cool, in a sci-fi cyberpunk kind of way. But it doesn’t look cool when you’re actually wearing it.

In truth, I don't think there is anything DNSYS could have done to change that. It looks as good as I can imagine being possible, but it is difficult not to feel like you're wearing Forest Gump-style leg braces.

Battery life

I wasn’t able to ascertain good numbers for the battery life, because it simply varies too much. Power setting, terrain, walking speed, and more can all have an effect.

The campaign copy states that the battery is good for up to 25 kilometers. I assume that is on the lowest setting while traversing flat terrain at a steady pace.

I can’t verify that number, but it seems reasonable to me.

Picking nits

I did find some minor annoyances that didn’t fit neatly into one of the other sections.

For example, the battery charger is a pain. It is a generic model built for a variety of hobby batteries, so there are many charging options to choose from. Heck, there is even NiCad charging available. My manual didn’t provide any information about this and if I wasn’t already somewhat knowledgeable about the topic, it would have been very confusing.

Some of the parts are more delicate than they should be for an application like this. I accidentally broke one of the plastic covers while fiddling with it and that didn’t require much force. I would have expected this to be more durable.

I also found it irritating that the lights are dim and don’t do much to indicate the current status. The big LEDs were impossible to see in the sunlight and the difference between modes is just whether or not those LEDs are blinking. Similarly, there is no indication of the current power level setting. You have to rely entirely on the tone of the beep to figure out what you’ve set it to.

DNSYS could have done a lot to make the whole thing more intuitive and user-friendly.

Disabilities and mobility issues

It seems obvious that the DNSYS X1 would appeal to those with disabilities or other issues that affect mobility.

I kept that in mind throughout my testing, but found myself unable to come to a conclusion. I don’t have any mobility problems myself, so it was all theoretical to me.

On the one hand, it does seem like this could be very beneficial — especially for people who can walk, but who become fatigued quickly. On the other hand, I’m not sure that it helps enough to make a practical difference for those people.

I wish that I could provide some more insight here, but I think I have to cop out and say that people will just need to try it for themselves to find out.

Conclusions

After a few weeks with the DNSYS X1, I feel pretty ambivalent about it. I really like the idea, but the reality is far less exciting.

I do feel as though it helped a little when hiking, but not when walking on flat ground — at least not enough to be worthwhile. It generally seems well-constructed and of good quality, but some parts are weirdly fragile and there were corners cut in some areas, such as the charger.

The DNSYS X1 certainly isn’t cheap, but it also isn’t very expensive. That’s especially true at the Kickstarter backer prices.

I think that many people will genuinely love this product and find it to be very useful. But I, an able-bodied man in my mid-30s, don’t feel like I have much use for it. The futuristic novelty wears off quickly and I doubt that I’ll bother reaching for it when I head out for hikes.

Of course, this is Hackster and so I'm very curious to see what happens when people in our community start tinkering with the X1. Maybe there is some interesting potential to unlock.

If you want to check it out, the DNSYS X1 Kickstarter Campaign is now live.

Cameron Coward
Writer for Hackster News. Proud husband and dog dad. Maker and serial hobbyist. Check out my YouTube channel: Serial Hobbyism
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