Mines students took first place in the 2018 Applied Collegiate Exoskeleton Competition on May 5 at the University of Michigan.
Exoskeletons—powered mechanical suits that augment the wearer’s strength and abilities—could be used to improve mobility for people with disabilities, help airport baggage handlers lift heavy bags or assembly line workers handle repetitive movements.
For the competition, students focused on firefighters, designing a strength-augmenting robotic exoskeleton to help bear the load of 75 pounds of firefighting equipment.
After a design review to assess safety components and the time it took to suit up, the load-bearing leg exoskeletons and their operators were fitted with 75 pounds of weight and timed while moving through an obstacle course that simulated the difficult terrain likely to be found in an emergency situation: a balance beam, stairs, uneven terrain, a low-clearance beam and dragging a 165-pound mannequin for 100 feet.
The Mines Robotics Club narrowly beat out the host university team—by 0.09 points.
“What set us apart, in my opinion, was our mobility,” said team member Stav Wine. “We used ball joints on the hips of the exosuit so we could move almost as easily in the suit as without it.”
The victory didn’t come without its share of challenges, though. The night before the competition, the Mines team accidentally shorted its Arduino during testing, incapacitating the linear actuators that would have fully powered the suit. It forced them to compete with just the suit using springs for support, Wine said.
But the malfunction didn’t end up hurting them too much, as none of the teams were able to present fully functional suits, she said.
“Going in, our team’s goal was to make a fully assistive robot, but we ended up competing with a non-powered, partially assistive bot and it worked great,” Wine said. “After going through one of these competitions, we feel much more prepared for the next one and have tons of new ideas for Squibby Jr., next year’s model.”