Tuesday June 18, 2019
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Now Paralyzed Can Also Walk Due To Exoskeleton Technology

Technology helps in walking

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Patrick Wensing tests out an Ekso Bionics exoskeleton in his lab at the University of Notre Dame. He and his team are working to make the machines more intuitive.
Patrick Wensing tests out an Ekso Bionics exoskeleton in his lab at the University of Notre Dame. He and his team are working to make the machines more intuitive. VOA

An accident, a stroke, or a disease can leave someone paralyzed and unable to walk. That happens to more than 15 million people around the world each year.

But new technological advances and physical therapy could help some of them walk again.

Among the most promising is the use of robotic exoskeletons, like one made by Ekso Bionics. It looks a bit like a backpack that straps on the user’s back and around the midsection. Robotic ‘legs’ complete with foot panels extend from either side of the pack and wrap around the patient’s legs. A video game-style controller attaches to the pack with a long cord.

The EksoGT robotic exoskeleton is being used in more than 200 rehabilitation centers around the world, including Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital.
The EksoGT robotic exoskeleton is being used in more than 200 rehabilitation centers around the world, including Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital. VOA

“I’m going to be a robot!”

Lindsey Stoefen has been doing physical therapy with the exoskeleton for an hour a day, as she works to recover from the rare disorder that put her in a wheelchair in October.

The 17-year-old athlete climbed into a specially designed exoskeleton for the first time in late April, after becoming an in-patient at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Chicago.

She recalls being nervous. “I was like ‘Dang, I’m going to be a robot!’ I was scared at first. I was like, ‘Am I going to like it? Will I be okay?’ And once I got into it, I loved it.”

Lauren Bularzik, Lindsey’s physical therapist, says the exo robots help to accelerate the rehabilitation process. “For someone who takes a lot of energy to only walk a few feet, exo can get them up, can get them moving, it can supplement their movements, get that reciprocal pattern, encourage the correct motor planning.”

Beside speeding up recovery times, these robotic skeletons are especially helpful for those with paralysis, from spinal cord injuries and strokes. Using the machine can help some patients rewire their brains to use secondary muscles, so they can eventually walk again – without the device.

The downside

Scientists at the University of Notre Dame are leading the way with their work on wearable robots that allow patients to regain some or all of their mobility. But Patrick Wensing, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, says exoskeletons have one big drawback.

Bionic exoskeleton helps wheelchair users stand and walk
Bionic exoskeleton helps wheelchair users stand and walk. Flickr

“While existing exoskeletons are very powerful, they don’t understand what the user wants to do. So in order to transition between activities in daily life, you often have to press a button interface to tell the exoskeleton ‘I would like to stand up now.’”

Wensing and his team are collaborating with Ekso Bionics, a leading developer of wearable robots, to create a machine that can understand what its user wants to do without implanted sensors and complicated control panels.

The new three-year project funded by The National Science Foundation’s robotic initiative, hopes to achieve a more fluid, intuitive system.

Taylor Gambon has spent the last year analyzing data from exoskeleton users and comparing them to models of everyday walking. “What we’re seeing is that slow walking in general, whether in the exoskeleton or just the human, is much different from walking at a speed that you would choose naturally.”

Also read: Heart patients who walk faster hospitalised less

Later this year, the team will travel to Ekso Bionics’ California headquarters, where they will work directly with exoskeletons to design programs that interact with users of various disabilities, so that more people like Lindsey Stoefen can get back on their feet again. (VOA)

Next Story

Researchers to Develop Wearable Devices to Help People with Mobility Issues Walk

Following research and development, the team aims to conduct clinical trials and then bring the devices into the supply chain once the project is over

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FILE - A man crosses a main road as pedestrians carrying food walk along the footpath in central Sydney, Australia. VOA

Researchers in the UK are working on a project that would develop soft, wearable rehabilitative devices to help the elderly and disabled people walk and move from sitting to a standing position in comfort and safety.

Led by Professor of Robotics Jonathan Rossiter at University of Bristol, the “FREEHAB” project builds on discoveries from the previous “Right Trousers” project which saw the team develop new soft materials that could be used like artificial muscles.

Rehabilitation is vital for patient, but according to Professor Rossiter, outcomes are hampered by a lack of easy-to-use dynamic tools to help therapists accurately analyse mobility performance and devise effective programmes.

“As rehabilitation increasingly takes place in patients’ homes in the absence of a therapist, better ways to support in-home mobility and training are needed,” said the researchers.

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FILE – A man walks past the Mahshahr petrochemical plant in Khuzestan province, southwest of Tehran, Iran. VOA

The materials from which the artificial muscles are made include 3D-printable electroactive gel materials, and soft but strong pneumatic chains that change shape when inflated and can exert considerable force.

“Together with integrated sensing technology, we will make devices that physiotherapists can use to accurately pinpoint limitations in their patients’ movements, thus enabling them to plan personalised training programmes,” said Professor Rossiter.

Also Read- Three Indians Suffer from Brain Stroke Every Minute

“We will also make simpler devices that the patient can use to enhance their mobility activities and exercise with confidence when a therapist is not with them,” he added.

Following research and development, the team aims to conduct clinical trials and then bring the devices into the supply chain once the project is over. (IANS)