Ultra-light exosuit built by Irish-led team excels at running and walking

16 Aug 2019

The lightweight exosuit. Image: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

This week in future tech, engineers unveiled an exosuit that, for the first time, assists its user in both running and walking.

Researchers from Harvard University and the University of Nebraska Omaha have teamed up to unveil an exosuit that is very lightweight and does things many other bulkier exosuits cannot. In a paper published to Science, the research team – led by Irishman Conor Walsh – showed its exosuit could assist both walking and running.

Until now, engineers have developed robotic devices for rehabilitation and other areas of life that can assist either walking or running, but no untethered portable device could efficiently do both. The biggest challenge to overcome is the fundamentally different biomechanics of the two gaits.

What does link the two, however, is that they both involve an extension of the hip joint that starts around the time when the foot comes in contact with the ground and requires considerable energy for propelling the body forward. Testing in the lab showed the exosuit reduced the users’ metabolic rates of walking by 9.3pc and of running by 4pc compared to when they were walking and running without the device.

“While the metabolic reductions we found are modest, our study demonstrates that it is possible to have a portable wearable robot assist more than just a single activity, helping to pave the way for these systems to become ubiquitous in our lives,” said Walsh, who is also founder of the Harvard Biodesign Lab.

Trump quietly terminated US autonomous car committee

US president Donald Trump’s efforts to undo some of the work of his predecessor appeared to continue, following news that his administration quietly terminated a committee tasked with looking into autonomous cars and other automated transport.

According to The Verge, the committee included some of the most senior figures in automated transport development, including Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase, Waymo CEO John Krafcik and General Motors CEO Mary Barra. However, many of the figures involved, including Chase, were not informed of its closure.

The Advisory Committee on Automation in Transportation’s only meeting occurred in January 2017, but the US Department of Transport never informed its members of any subsequent meetings.

Speaking under anonymity, one of its members said “it could’ve been a really interesting group”. “It’s frustrating, because there’s a lot going on in this arena, and there could be a positive outcome from this diverse set of people,” the person added.

Google hate speech algorithm found to be racially biased

AI’s algorithmic biases have been highlighted once again following the discovery that Google’s AI designed specifically to target hate speech has a major problem: it’s racially biased.

A team of US researchers published findings that showed it was far more likely to label tweets as ‘offensive’ if they were posted by people who self-identified as African-American. To test this, they built two AI systems and plugged them into datasets of more than 100,000 tweets tagged by humans as hate speech.

The results showed one of the AIs determined that almost half (46pc) of tweets from African-Americans were offensive. Meanwhile, tests using bigger datasets – comprising as many as 5.4m tweets – showed that tweets from African-Americans were 1.5 times more likely to be flagged.

The researchers argued that with such biases in place, comments from minorities are likely to be silenced on social media platforms, especially as more AI systems are used by major companies to tackle the sheer number of offensive posts on a daily basis.

AI insurance premiums to exceed $20bn by 2024

Insurance premiums underwritten by AI will likely exceed $20bn by 2024, up from an estimated $1.3bn in 2019, according to Juniper Research. This growth will be driven by streamlined underwriting processes, faster customer onboarding and reductions in operational costs enabled by AI.

Its report said that these efficiencies will be brought on by increased use of telematics and internet-of-things management tools in vehicle, home, life and health insurance sectors. The vehicle industry is expected to reap the most benefits from this move, accounting for more than 60pc of the $2.3bn saved globally by 2024.

Additionally, increasing vehicle numbers in the Asia – and particularly China – will drive telematics growth, increasing its revenue share from 15pc in 2019 to 33pc in 2024.

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic