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Uchida TK, Seth A, Pouya S, Dembia CL, Hicks JL, Delp SL. Simulating ideal assistive devices to reduce the metabolic cost of running. PLOS ONE 11(9):e0163417 (2016)
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Tools have been used for millions of years to augment the capabilities of the human body, allowing us to accomplish tasks that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. Powered exoskeletons and other assistive devices are sophisticated modern tools that have restored bipedal locomotion in individuals with paraplegia and have endowed unimpaired individuals with superhuman strength. Despite these successes, designing assistive devices that reduce energy consumption during running remains a substantial challenge, in part because these devices disrupt the dynamics of a complex, finely tuned biological system. Furthermore, designers have hitherto relied primarily on experiments, which cannot report muscle-level energy consumption and are fraught with practical challenges. In this study, we use OpenSim to generate muscle-driven simulations of 10 human subjects running at 2 and 5 m/s. We then add ideal, massless assistive devices to our simulations and examine the predicted changes in muscle recruitment patterns and metabolic power consumption. Our simulations suggest that an assistive device should not necessarily apply the net joint moment generated by muscles during unassisted running, and an assistive device can reduce the activity of muscles that do not cross the assisted joint. Our results corroborate and suggest biomechanical explanations for similar effects observed by experimentalists, and can be used to form hypotheses for future experimental studies. The models, simulations, and software used in this study are freely available at simtk.org and can provide insight into assistive device design that complements experimental approaches.

Software and data to reproduce publication results

License: Supporting data

We used simulation to predict and gain insight into the biomechanical and energetic effects of assisted running, and to demonstrate the potential for simulation to complement experimental approaches to device design. We performed muscle-driven simulations of running at 2 and 5 m/s, then added ideal, massless assistive devices and examined the predicted changes in muscle recruitment patterns and metabolic power consumption. We predicted the optimal assistive device torque profiles and sought explanations for the observed changes in muscle activity. By ignoring device mass and other practical factors, we avoided confounding the beneficial effects of adding assistance with the detrimental side effects often encountered experimentally.


Experimental data and simulation results underlying the results of this study, Matlab scripts that assemble the relevant simulation results and generate the figures appearing in the manuscript, and instructions for adding ideal assistive devices to an existing OpenSim simulation.

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