Elderly could keep their mobility, thanks to the 'right trousers'

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Researchers at the University of Bristol are developing ‘smart trousers’ with artificial ‘muscles’ which could help the elderly and disabled with their mobility.

The project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), incorporates a number of technologies including smart electronics and graphene. Some items of clothing which make use of these, including a pair of ‘power trousers’, has been demonstrated at the British Science Festival in Hull.

Approximately 10 million people in the UK are believed to experience problems with mobility. A further 1.2 million who have suffered a stroke, requiring assistance with walking, sitting and standing, and with other day-to-day tasks like dressing. Moreover, by 2046, nearly a quarter of the population of the UK could be aged 65 and over, with an associated growth in the need for social services to provide occupational therapists and carer staff.

The ‘power trousers’, which bring together experts in fields including functional 3D-printing, smart-material development and artificial muscle technology, are expected to provide a 5-10 per cent increase in strength to the wearer’s own muscles, within a decade.

One feature of the trousers is a pneumatic device which inflates bubbles inside the garment, to push the seated wearer into a standing position. The trousers have been likened to the robotic garments featured in the famous animated film starring the characters Wallace and Gromit.

Jonathan Rossiter, Professor of Robotics at the University of Bristol and the lead researcher on the project, believes that in the future it will be possible to choose a pair of ‘assistance’ trousers from a store, just as with ‘regular’ garments today.

The prototype garments currently resemble Lycra cycling trousers; however, the researchers are confident that the trousers can be developed in more ‘tasteful’ styles, and should also be washable.

 

Reference: PN 60-18