Engineers are making smart trousers for disabled people

A team from the University of Bristol is launching a new project to develop smart trousers that could help people to walk. (Reports that they were inspired by Wallace and Gromit are as yet unconfirmed.)

It’s being led by Dr Jonathan Rossiter from the department of engineering mathematics at the university. As The Guardian reports, he and his colleagues hope to use soft robotics technology to make the most advanced wearable yet. The smart trousers will be close-fitting and have built-in, unobtrusive artificial muscles that work with the wearer’s body to enhance their mobility.

They could be especially useful in helping people to use stairs and to switch between sitting and standing. The aim is to give older people and disabled people more independence while also helping their physical health. Rossiter says, ‘Many existing devices used by people with mobility problems can cause or aggravate conditions such as poor circulation, skin pressure damage or susceptibility to falls, each of which is a drain on health resources.’

The £2 million project is part of a £5.3m funding programme for assistive devices from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. It’s expected to take three years to develop the robotic trews, and Rossiter and his team will start work on them this July.

Obviously, it will be some time before smart trousers become an everyday reality, but the engineers say that one day they could even replace wheelchairs and stairlifts. Obviously that could make life easier for a lot of people. But it would be also be super helpful to invest in improving accessibility for people who need to use wheelchairs, so that they don’t need a £2 million wearable just to enter a high street shop.

Diane Shipley