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Designing a Bio-tensegrity Exoskeleton

Designing a Bio-tensegrity Exoskeleton
  • On April 11, 2015

What is the best way to build an exoskeleton for the human body? In the Lab we’ve been looking at the biomechanics of human body, trying to find a structure to “upgrade” human action capabilities and extend perception too.

Biotensegrity is a structural system that maintains stability by distributing mechanical forces through components that interact in just one of two different ways – attraction (tension) or repulsion (compression). Such simplicity is due to some basic laws of physics, and because it is energetically efficient is likely to have developed throughout evolution to produce biological organisms of great complexity. Tensegrity systems eliminate the need for bulky elements, and are lightweight structures with a high resiliency that depends on the integration of every part. It seems to be pervasive in biology and is described in the human body through molecules, cells, the extra-cellular matrix, vascular system and entire musculo-skeletal-fascial system. (Graham Scarr C.Biol, MSB, DO)

With 30 years research of biotensegrity, Tom Flemons attempts to reverse engineer evolution. The method was to build from geometry (nature of structure) towards gross vertebrate anatomy (structure of nature).

Tom Flemons Models

Tom Flemons Models

Biotensegrity Spine, experiment  of project  Polymelia

Biotensegrity Spine, experiment of project Polymelia

Tensegrity can adapt and change their form, project like “ Alloplastic Architecture “ from Behnaz Farahi is using it desire to engage with the psychological benefits of an environment that can respond to and therefore empathize with – human emotions through its capacity to adapt physically to the user. As such, the environment can be seen to overcome shock or conditions of alienation by accommodating the user.

Central to this approach is the notion that for this process to happen most effectively there should be a common logic of behavior shared by both user and the environment. One response to this could be through the use of tensegrity structures designed to operation an alloplastic fashion, and a pilot study has already been undertaken exploring the possibilities of this logic of construction.

As an upgrade of human body to enhance the interaction between the environment and interior body, wearable prosthesis is the best choice. Joseph Malloch and Ian Hattwick from McGill University’s Input Devices and Music Interaction Lab (IDMIL) in Canada have designed a family of prosthetic musical instruments, including an external spine and a touch-sensitive rib cage, that create music in response to body gestures.

Joseph Malloch and Ian Hattwick,  instrumented bodies musical digital prostheses spine

Joseph Malloch and Ian Hattwick,
instrumented bodies musical digital prostheses spine


“The goal of the project was to develop instruments that are visually striking, utilize advanced sensing technologies, and are rugged enough for extensive use in performance,” explained Malloch and Hattwick.

Considering any wearable structure must be portable and flexible. We recognise that evolution selects for structural adaptations which are maximally efficient. Tensegrity structures, which combine flexibility, resilience, strength, with minimal energy and material requirements, are optimum solutions to these demands. What will happen if human beings have an exoskeleton which can physically augment their sensing and magnify their physical performance? If they wear such a device what impact will it have on communicating with others? How do we code the behaviour of a wearable biotensegrity exoskeleton? We will see the answer in next few months with the development of the Polymelia project. Watch this space!

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