Advanced exoskeleton may help paralysed walk

Advanced exoskeleton may help paralysed walk

A team of researchers has developed a powered exoskeleton that enables people with severe spinal cord injuries to stand, walk, sit and climb stairs.

The exoskeleton is light weight, compact size and modular design promise to provide users with an unprecedented degree of independence.

The Vanderbilt University’s Center for Intelligent Mechatronics has several patents pending on the design and Parker Hannifin Corporation – a global leader in motion and control technologies – has signed an exclusive licensing agreement to develop a commercial version of the device, which it plans on introducing in 2014.

  Until recently “wearable robots” were the stuff of science fiction. In the last 10 years, however, advances in robotics, microelectronics, battery and electric motor technologies advanced to the point where it has become practical to develop exoskeletons to aid people with disabilities.  In fact, two companies – Argo Medical Technologies Ltd. in Israel and Ekso Bionics in Berkeley, Calif. – have developed products of this type and are marketing them in the US.

These devices act like an external skeleton. They strap in tightly around the torso. Rigid supports are strapped to the legs and extend from the hip to the knee and from the knee to the foot. The hip and knee joints are driven by computer-controlled electric motors powered by advanced batteries. Patients use the powered apparatus with walkers or forearm crutches to maintain their balance.

“You can think of our exoskeleton as a Segway with legs,” Michael Goldfarb said.
 “If the person wearing it leans forward, he moves forward. If he leans back and holds that position for a few seconds, he sits down.

When he is sitting down, if he leans forward and holds that position for a few seconds, then he stands up,” Goldfarb said.

 Goldfarb developed the system with funding from the National Institutes of Health and with the assistance of research engineer Don Truex, graduate students Hugo Quintero, Spencer Murray and Kevin Ha, and Ryan Farris, a former student who now works for Parker Hannifin.

 “This is an extremely exciting new technology,” Clare Hartigan, a physical therapist at Shepherd Center who has worked with the Argo, Ekso and Vanderbilt devices, said.
 “All three models get people up and walking, which is fantastic,” Hartigan said.

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