Researchers at the University of Bristol, England, are leading the development of smart pants that are equipped with artificial muscles, which could help the elderly and disabled move around easily and unaided. The project, funded by a £2 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, incorporates several technologies including smart electronics and graphene. Some items of clothing that make use of these, including a pair of power pants, were demonstrated at this year’s British Science Festival.
The Right Trousers project encompasses a range of assistive and rehabilitation applications including wearable soft devices to help people who have suffered a stroke, pants for people who have mobility problems, and active orthoses. The soft robotic clothing could help vulnerable people avoid falls by supporting them while walking, give people added bionic strength to move between sitting and standing positions, and help people climb stairs.
One feature of the pants is a pneumatic device that inflates bubbles inside the garment to push the seated wearer into a standing position. With further advancement, the smart pants are expected to eventually provide a 5 percent to 10 percent increase in strength to the wearer’s own muscles. The clothing will include control systems that monitor the wearer and adapt to give the most suitable assistance, working with the body’s own muscles. For patients needing rehabilitation, the smart clothing can initially provide strong support and subsequently reduce assistance as the patient recovers mobility and strength.
The prototype garments currently resemble Lycra cycling pants; however, the researchers are confident that more stylish pants can be developed. The research team’s goal is that the wearable clothing will be easy to use, comfortable, and adaptable and meet the user’s individual mobility needs.