Scientists in Limerick are working on a multi-million euro project aimed at making a soft exoskeleton to help people with reduced mobility to move.

It is hoped a fully functioning prototype version of the intelligent trousers will be working within three years. 

The University of Limerick researchers are working with colleagues from nine organisations in the public and private sector across Europe on the €5.4m European Union funded XoSoft project.

Their aim is to build a soft lower limb biometric exoskeleton which will detect the intention of those wearing it to move, and which will then translate that intention into movement.

They will use state-of-the-art advanced textiles and smart materials to build joints that can sense and vary their stiffness.

"There are 3.2 million wheelchair users in Europe and another 40 million who cannot walk without an aid," said Senior lecturer in Design Ergonomics at UL, Dr Leonard O'Sullivan.

"People with limitation in independent movement of their legs can rely on a variety of assistive devices. Yet the available assistive aids are usually bulky, fairly inflexible and can therefore only partially support the process of movement. 

"Neither do they encourage or support the activation of legs, which is essential to prevent further atrophy. This is where XoSoft comes in."