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Samsung's EX1 "Hip-Assist Robot" Shows Promise as an Exercise Assistant for Older Adults

Operating in either assistive or resistive modes, the EX1 can help boost walking and balance abilities after just four weeks' use.

Samsung Electronics has developed a wearable "hip-assist robot," dubbed EX1, which has been shown to offer significant improvements in balance and motion for older adults — with an EX1-based exercise program improving propulsion by more than a fifth and stride length by over 12 percent.

"Using the wearable robot EX1, older adults can effectively perform simple exercises such as walking and fitness, thereby improving their quality of life," Wan-hee Lee, professor at the Sahmyook University College of Health Science and corresponding author on a study into the device's efficacy, "EX1 can increase their participation in exercise and serve as a guideline for exercising the right way."

The EX1 wearable is described as an "exercise assistance robot," designed to help improve the user's natural range of motion rather than as a permanently-worn aid — though with the ability to work as a permanent aid too. Worn on the hip joint, the device has two thigh frames and straps to connect to the wearer's leg. An on-board processor is linked to an inertial measurement unit (IMU) and to actuators on the frame — allowing it to guide the wearer through exercises.

EX1, which is confusingly distinct from Samsung's EX1 human assistance robot design and the Samsung EX1 pocket camera, can operate in two modes, Samsung says. The first is an assistive mode, which uses the actuators to enhance the wearer's movement during exercise — ensuring that they're not using too much force. For those further on in their exercise journey, the robot can be switched to a second resistive mode — actively pushing against the wearer's movement to provide a tougher exercise.

Tested on a cohort of 21 adults aged 65 or above during thrice-weekly 50-minute exercise sessions, the EX1 showed promise: despite running for only four weeks, which wasn't long enough for the users to develop noticeable musculature, users showed a 6.63 percent decrease in completion time for the balance-testing TUG test while stride length increased by an average of 12.42 percent with propulsion jumping an impressive 21.29 percent. Despite the robotic assistance, users even showed a 1.71 percent reduction in waist-hip ratio.

"Our findings provide a solid foundation for developing various types of improved and advanced wearable robots," Lee says, with the team pointing out even greater improvements in walking while wearing the EX1 in assist mode. "This will further expand the global wearable robot market, promoting further research and commercialization."

The team's work has been published in the journal BMC Geriatrics under open-access terms.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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