Robotic exoskeletons provide programmable, consistent and controllable active therapeutic assistance to patients with neurological disorders. Here we introduce a prototype and preliminary experimental evaluation of a rehabilitative gait exoskeleton that enables compliant yet effective manipulation of the fragile limbs of rats. To assist the displacements of the lower limbs without impeding natural gait movements, we designed and fabricated soft pneumatic actuators (SPAs). The exoskeleton integrates two customizable SPAs that are attached to a limb. This configuration enables a 1 N force load, a range of motion exceeding 80 mm in the major axis, and speed of actuation reaching two gait cycles/s. Preliminary experiments in rats with spinal cord injury validated the basic features of the exoskeleton. We propose strategies to improve the performance of the robot and discuss the potential of SPAs for the design of other wearable interfaces.
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