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Hyundai’s wearable exoskeleton restores personal mobility to the disabled, with a little Zynq-powered help

Xilinx Employee
Xilinx Employee
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Hyundai Exoskeleton.jpg


When DongJin Hyun from Hyundai Motors’ Central Advanced Research and Engineering Institute walked onto the stage at NI Week 2015 wearing a personal robotic exoskeleton during Thursday’s keynote, he was not garbed to fight malevolent aliens. Instead, he was ready to do battle with a flight of stairs—a serious, everyday obstacle for many elderly and disabled people. The exoskeleton straps to the wearer’s back, thighs, and calves, with extensions into the wearer’s shoes, and senses the wearer’s physical intent to move. The exoskeleton then amplifies that movement, supplementing whatever muscle function the wearer already has. The result is a restored ability to walk, even up and down stairs.


Developing the complex control algorithms to simultaneously capture data from various sensors, compute motion, and control multiple actuators in real-time that supplements human gait without breaking bones, tearing off the user’s leg, or even straining a muscle weakened by age, injury, or disease—well that’s quite a challenge. Severe space, weight, and power restrictions for both the mechanicals and the electronic control devices simply add to the challenge. After all, a wearable robot needs to be put on like a suit and worn like daily attire. It needs to be light and small—as close to a second skin as advanced mechatronic engineering can make it.


The Hyundai design team selected National Instruments’ (NI’s) LabVIEW graphical programming environment augmented with the LabVIEW Real-Time and LabVIEW FPGA Modules to develop the control code for this wearable and very personal exoskeleton.


Initial hardware development employed NI’s CompactRIO cRIO-9082 and cRIO-9033 8- and 4-slot controller/chassis combos, which respectively combine a 1.33 GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 processor and a Xilinx Spartan-6 LX150 FPGA (cRIO-9082) and a 1.33 GHz dual-core Intel Atom processor and a Xilinx Kintex-7 160T FPGA. These capable controllers accept plug-in I/O modules and are ideal for early prototyping but they are simply too large, too heavy, and too power-hungry for a wearable, battery-powered, personal exoskeleton. So after initial development, the Hyundai design team switched to the NI sbRIO-9651—NI’s ruggedized SOM or System on Module, based on an industrial-grade Xilinx Zynq Z-7020 SoC—for the fully wearable prototype.


NI introduced the sbRIO-9651 SOM at last year’s NI Week. (See “NI’s new Zynq-in-a-box SOM targets embedded development with dual-core ARM Cortex-A9.”) The advantage of this design path is that substantially all of the Hyundai-developed LabVIEW code transfers from the CompactRIO controller crates to the sbRIO-9651 SOM, which is a small circuit board encased in a milled block of black-anodized aluminum. It’s a great controller for a relatively rugged environment like an personal exoskeleton designed to be worn and used outdoors.


Like the cRIO controller crates, the Xilinx Zynq SoC combines software-programmable processors (a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor in the Zynq SoC) with programmable logic. The fast, hardware-driven performance achieved with programmable logic is essential for implementing the real-time sensing and control algorithms needed in a complex mechatronic system like the Hyundai exoskeleton, especially when taking the intimate contact with the wearer’s body into consideration. Any lag in response time could cause injury—to be avoided at all costs.


Here’s an illustration showing the exoskeleton and the dual development environment:



Hyundai Exoskeleton Diagram.jpg 



So, how well did the exoskeleton-wearing DongJin Hyun navigate the stairs during Thursday’s keynote at NI Week 2015? Judge for yourself:






The Hyundai exoskeleton project was a finalist in the Advanced Manufacturing and Control category of this year’s NI Engineering Impact Awards. You can read NI’s case study of the Hyundai exoskeleton here.

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