We've been following Honda’s Stride Management Assist since its first unveiling in 2008, to the introduction of its sturdier cousin into the workplace and then its U.S. tour in 2009. Now the ASMIO spin off is scheduled to undergo field tests by Japan's National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology (NCGG). The NCGG will test 40 units of the device on people with limited walking ability at the Elder Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Center at Resora Obu Shopping Terrace in Obu, Japan.
Honda has been working on walking robot technology since the 1980s and the 130 patents that resulted in its ASIMO robot have allowed the automotive giant to expand into creating a new range of assisted mobility devices, including the Stride Management Assist. This lightweight, surprisingly simple-looking device is designed to help those with weakened leg muscles due to age or other causes, yet who are still able to walk. It does this by giving a robotically controlled boost to the upper legs that allows the wearer to walk faster for longer.
Looking a bit like a girdle meant for a robot, the Stride Management Assist consists of light metal braces that cradle the wearer’s legs. These are attached to a hip piece with a streamlined box fitted in the small of the back. It’s held in place by adjustable straps and acts a bit like the belted frame of a rucksack to reduce the wearer’s load and to fit different body shapes.
Lightweight it certainly is, coming in at only 2.8 kilograms (6.2 lb) - and that includes its lithium batteries. Its running time is about two hours when walking at 4.5 km/h (2.8 mph) and it comes in small, medium and large sizes. The control computer and batteries sit in the back case and a DC motor sits on each hip. The idea is that when the wearer walks, the computer analyzes the stride and boosts it by providing assistance to the thighs when extending the front leg and when the rear leg pushes off.
However, it does much more than just goose the wearer along. The Stride Management Assist adjusts the stride and walking rhythm within a preprogrammed range, lengthening the wearer’s stride.
According to Honda, this brings a range of benefits. With the device also monitoring the wearer's heartbeat and making adjustments accordingly, Honda has found that in hill tests it reduces exertion and lowers the heart rate of the wearer. The company claims continued use of the Stride Management Assist also increases overall muscle activity due to lengthening of the walking stride and, over time, the wearer’s natural stride and speed increases. Tests have even shown that the Stride Management Assist can, to some degree, provide maintenance and restoration of walking function in some people.
Honda will use the results of the scheduled tests in Obu to evaluate the device and make improvements to it.