What do Ironman, astronauts on a mission to Mars and paraplegics have in common? 

“In Marvel Comic’s fictional superhero, Ironman, uses a powered armor suit that allows him superhuman strength. While NASA’s X1 robotic exoskeleton can’t do what you see in the movies, the latest robotic, space technology, spinoff derived from NASA’s Robonaut 2 project may someday help astronauts stay healthier in space with the added benefit of assisting paraplegics in walking here on Earth.”

X1 is a a robotic exoskeleton and a joint project by NASA and The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) of Pensacola, with help from engineers from Oceaneering Space Systems in Houston.
The 57-pound (25.85 kg) device is a robot that a human could wear over its legs by means of a harness over the back and shoulders and consists of four motorized joints at the hips and knees with ten degrees of freedom and six passive joints for turning and flexing the foot. The device can be used either to assist or inhibit movement in leg joints. In the inhibit mode, the robotic device would be used as an in-space exercise machine to supply resistance against leg movement. The same technology could be used in reverse on the ground, potentially helping people to walk again.

Project Engineer Roger Rovekamp demonstrates the X1 Robotic Exoskeleton for resistive exercise, rehabilitation and mobility augmentation in the Advanced Robotics Development Lab.
Image courtesy of Robert Markowitz

Though it may not be evident, astronauts on extended missions in zero gravity and paraplegics face similar issues: muscle atrophy through lack of use

If the suit can serve as an exercise device aboard space stations without taking up too much space or weight, IHMC is investigating the use of the X1 as an assistive walking device that could be used for paraplegics. “Robotics is playing a key role aboard the International Space Station and will continue to be critical as we move toward human exploration of deep space,” Michael Gazarik, director of NASA’s Space Technology Program, says. “What’s extraordinary about space technology and our work with projects like Robonaut are the unexpected possibilities space-tech spinoffs may have right here on Earth. It’s exciting to see a NASA-developed technology that might one day help people with serious ambulatory needs begin to walk again, or even walk for the first time. That’s the sort of return on investment NASA is proud to give back to America and the world.”

Currently in the development phase, researchers are still improving the design of the X1 and are working to add more active joints at the ankle and hip which will, in turn, increase the potential uses for the device.

Via: NASA and Ecouterre

Project Engineer Shelley Rea demonstrates the X1 Robotic Exoskeleton. 
Image courtesy of Robert Markowitz


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For information about the X1 and Robonaut, visit:


This post is also available in: French


  1. Could it help children born with muskuloskeletal difficulties or spina bifida? It sounds so promising!


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