Putting this layer of “external muscles” on the arms can increase the endurance of healthy people’s upper limbs by 30%

The freedom to use the arms to perform various operations in life is a breeze for many people. But for patients with upper limb injuries, as well as many elderly people, this is not an easy task.

To improve the quality of life altered by upper body injuries or lack of strength, researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) have developed a wearable textile arm muscle called Myoshirt. It acts as an extra layer of muscle to increase upper body strength and endurance for people with limited mobility.

▲ Picture from: ETH Zürich

Myoshirt is actually an upper-arm vest with sleeves that comes with a small box containing technology that won't be applied directly to the body. Instead, an intelligent algorithm detects the wearer's intentional movements and required force through sensors embedded in the fabric.

The motors then shorten cables in the fabric that run parallel to the wearer's muscles, the equivalent of using an artificial tendon to support the desired motion. This assistance is always in tune with the user's actions and can be customized to personal preference. The user is always in control and can wear the device at any time.

▲ Picture from: ETH Zürich

With Myoshirt as the support of the outer muscles, the upper body will have more endurance. The prototype was tested for the first time in a recent study by the researchers of 12 participants: 10 of whom had no physical impairment, one (Michael Hagmann) with muscular dystrophy, and one with spinal cord injury.

The test results showed that with the power of the wearable external muscles, all participants took longer to lift their arms or objects. Among them, healthy subjects increased their endurance by about a third, muscular dystrophy participants increased their endurance by about 60 percent, and those with spinal cord injuries were even able to complete three times as much exercise time.

▲ Picture from: ETH Zürich

As a result, the outer muscles relieved their muscle load, and the vast majority of participants found the device to be intuitive to use. However, it will take time for Myoshirt to be marketed as a product. In the next phase, the researchers hope to test the prototype outside the laboratory, in the natural environment of future wearers, and use the results to make further improvements.

In order for the device to be unobtrusive and comfortable to wear under human clothing, the actuators and control boxes, which currently weigh 4 kg, must be further reduced in size and weight. The researchers hope to minimize the size of the product by focusing on a single core function, namely the ability to support the user's shoulders when the arm is raised.

▲ Picture from: ETH Zürich

ETH (ETH Zurich) is working with spin-off company MyoSwiss to improve the external muscles, and the practical application is clear, allowing hospitals to provide Myoshirts to patients who need to exercise at home without the need for clumsy and expensive treatment equipment. It also makes some everyday tasks easier.

▲ Picture from: ETH Zürich

Myoshirt was born because of Michael Hagmann, who suffers from Bethlem Myopathy, a rare muscular dystrophy that prevents him from having sufficient arm muscle strength. While hospitals have many good treatment devices, they are often very expensive and bulky. Moreover, there are few technological aids that patients can use directly in their daily lives or when exercising at home.

▲ Picture from: ETH Zürich

Today, Michael Hagmann has assisted in testing various technical aids from prototype to finished product at ETH. Myoshirt can autonomously follow the user's movements to help the shoulder resist gravity, and it has also proven to be an effective tool to intuitively assist the shoulder in functional reach tasks and improve personal independence for people with upper extremity disabilities.

It is hoped that with the research and improvement of Myoshirt, there will be more people like Hagmann who can accomplish more things by themselves in life, make their lives more independent, and make their quality of life higher.

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