Walking balance is central to independent mobility, and falls due to loss of balance are a leading cause of death for people 65 years of age and older. Bipedal gait is inherently unstable, but healthy humans use corrective torques to counteract perturbations and stabilize gait. Exoskeleton assistance could benefit people with neuromuscular deficits by providing stabilizing torques at lower-limb joints to replace lost muscle strength and sensorimotor control. However, it is unclear how applied exoskeleton torques translate to changes in walking kinematics. This study used musculoskeletal simulation to investigate how exoskeleton torques applied to the ankle and subtalar joints alter center of mass kinematics during walking. We first created muscle-driven walking simulations using OpenSim Moco by tracking experimental kinematics and ground reaction forces recorded from five healthy adults. We then used forward integration to simulate the effect of exoskeleton torques applied to the ankle and subtalar joints while keeping muscle excitations fixed based on our previous tracking simulation results. Exoskeleton torque lasted for 15% of the gait cycle, and changes in center of mass kinematics were recorded when the torque application ended. We found that changes in center of mass kinematics were dependent on both the type and timing of exoskeleton torques. Plantarflexion torques produced upward and backward changes in velocity of the center of mass in mid-stance and upward and forward velocity changes near toe-off. Eversion and inversion torques primarily produced lateral and medial changes in velocity in mid-stance, respectively. Intrinsic muscle properties reduced kinematic changes from exoskeleton torques. Our results provide mappings between ankle plantarflexion and inversion-eversion torques and changes in center of mass kinematics which can inform designers building exoskeletons aimed at stabilizing balance during walking. Our simulations and software are freely available and allow researchers to explore the effects of applied torques on balance and gait.
Simulations to understand the effect of ankle exoskeleton torques on changes in center of mass kinematics during walking.
GitHub repo: https://github.com/stanfordnmbl/balance-exo-sim.
Walking balance is central to independent mobility, and falls due to loss of balance are a leading cause of death for people 65 years of age and older. Wearable robotic devices, or exoskeletons, could help people with reduced muscle strength and motor control avoid falls by providing stabilizing torques at lower-limb joints. However, it is currently unclear how exoskeleton torques change walking motions. In this study, we used computer simulation to investigate how exoskeleton torques applied to the ankle change the motion of the body’s center of mass. We first created realistic simulations of walking using a biomechanically accurate model. We then simulated the effect of exoskeleton torques applied to the model that plantarflexed (i.e., extended), inverted, or everted the ankle. We found that plantarflexion torques moved the center of mass backwards or forwards, depending on when the torque was applied during the walking cycle. Plantarflexion torques also moved the center of mass upwards. Eversion and inversion torques produced left-right motions of the center of mass. Finally, we found that the force-generating properties of muscles in our model reduced the center of mass changes from exoskeleton torques. Our results can help exoskeleton designers create devices that stabilize walking balance.
Models, data, and results associated with the PLOS Computational Biology publication "Simulating the effect of ankle plantarflexion and inversion-eversion exoskeleton torques on center of mass kinematics during walking" (Bianco et al., 2023).See all Downloads