Archives for posts with tag: exoskeletons

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Research, often underappreciated, is the foundation of medical decisions and the determining factor for whether devices and medications pass on to us as a population. Before we even hear about many of the amazing medical devices that are available to us, they undergo intense research to prove their safety and efficacy, and have to pass through national regulations to be distributed to the general population.

Research is the basis of the trends and decisions that we make in healthcare. In physical therapy, research is the basis of the treatments we provide. It makes for valuable, efficient treatment. Research proves the effectiveness of exercise for treating back pain, and provides the justification for why we prescribe specific exercises.

In the case of brain injury, this research is vital because subjects are not always able to describe their progress and limitations as they go through the healing process. A brain injury, especially when traumatic, leaves someone relearning to do the activities that we spent our childhood years developing: walking, talking, eating, expressing what they want and understanding commands. Time is very valuable during recovery, and it is important to begin effective treatment immediately before the results from the injury become chronic. With good research, there is more likelihood that effective treatment can be provided at an appropriate time.

KINARM Labs is a robotic platform developed for neuroscientists to conduct basic and clinical research for brain injury in the realm of cognitive, sensory, and motor deficits. This is novel and fantastic as it provides an option for both companies developing products and clinical research to learn more about their subjects. It is quite an amazing and involved research option for neuroscientists, with a multitude of research options to explore for researchers. There are two basic categories of available research platform: an Exoskeleton Lab and a hand-held bimanual End-Point Lab.

The Exoskeleton Lab helps to evaluate sensorimotor performance and voluntary motor control after a brain injury. This lab allows researchers to observe aspects of controlled movement such as joint motion. As the site states, this is a huge asset in the development of neuroprosthetics, where devices optimize the use of intact neural systems to help regain motor control of areas that have been injured.

The End-Point Lab is a graspable, hand-held robotics research platform which has sensors which helps to evaluate components important for upper limb control and coordination, visual research, and virtual reality as it relates to brain injury. One of the many great aspects of this lab is that it is bimanual, and thus the performance of an affected side can be compared to the unaffected side after injury.

It is difficult to fully describe all the aspects of this amazing platform. Go to their site to learn more. As healthcare technology expands its options and devices, it is vital for companies to remember that devices and programs available for clients must be based on research and knowledge.

Additionally, see the diagram below for a platform comparison:

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The bionic exoskeleton will never, ever cease to be an amazing product. It is, in every way, aligned with the evolution of man, from technology to function. We have developed as humans to walk, and not sit, and so a product that addresses the captivity of being wheelchair bound addresses the essence of what we are: bipedal creatures. The robotic exoskeleton technology has been breathtaking to observe as it evolves, from bulky and functional to increasingly light, mobile, and personalized.

The prosthetic world is undergoing a revolution, and has never seen such advances as in the last 10 years. The work behind it, the hours of labor, the intelligence of those who are painstakingly developing these products while trying to negotiate with the FDA for home and personal use may be unseen, but the finalized product’s beauty is visible. As technology advances, however, so does the cost, and many home units of motorized prosthetics are still out of financial reach for those that need it.

Phoenix by SuitX addresses these financial and functional concerns while presenting an amazing, modular, lightweight product. Weighing only 27 pounds, Phoenix allows 4 hours of continuous use between charges, and can be put on piece by piece for ease of use. Its adaptive fit also allows for a more minimalist design, which can allow for versatility and a generally more aesthetic approach.

SuitX’s mission to accept feedback from its users with constant research and development, gear the product toward versatile ambulatory use, and focus on making not only a highly functional but affordable product marks the shift toward a more approachable and attainable bionic exoskeleton for paraplegics.

Anyone that has ever observed anyone with a neurological injury that renders them paralyzed in the lower extremities understands the necessity of a device that allows them to stand and ambulate. A constant sedentary and inactive life wreaks havoc on a person’s health and is psychologically extremely difficult. For years, otherwise healthy and often young people have been given only a wheelchair as the answer to their injury, but thankfully this sentence is changing with devices such as Phoenix.

Watch the video below for a demonstration and explanation of this amazing product.

For those with neurological injuries which affect the use of both their arms and legs, options can be limited for assistive devices to help with ambulation. Those with paralysis in their legs who still have control of their arms can use their upper extremities to assist with balance or propulsion such as in wheelchairs or more advanced robotic devices. Those with loss of control of both upper and lower extremities, however, such as in the case of cervical level spinal cord injuries or diseases such as ALS have much more limited options. Even if a device were to allow a quadriplegic person to stand, it would be difficult for them to advance their movement.

This is part of the reason why the BCI exoskeleton developed by Korea University and TU Berlin is so groundbreaking and amazing. An EEG cap allows the user to focus on flickering LED lights, each at a different frequency with a different command. The commands are: walking, turning left, standing, turning right, and sitting. A visual focus on one of these commands by the user is received by the EEG cap and changes the action potential to trigger a response for movement by the exoskeleton. This mirrors the response of muscles in our own system, it is the change in voltage which causes the nerves to send signals to muscles to contract for desired movement.

Truly, this exoskeleton is brilliant in the research and innovation behind the product. Please read the full paper that was published for the hard work and consideration that went into this project. While this is a research phase of design, hopefully this is a viable product that will become available to the general public soon.

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Each development in the exoskeleton industry seems more amazing and unbelievable, pushing users into a new frontier of possibility for motion. HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) by Cyberdyne, coined as “The world’s first cyborg-type robot,” is a thought-driven exoskeleton which provides gait assistance for its users, among other functions. Designed for both industrial use and motor relearning after neurological injury, HAL provides strength and facilitates feedback for those that need extra power with gait.

Cyberdyne explains HAL’s function from thought to movement in 7 steps. The process is initiated when the user thinks about the movement. In relearning movement after an injury, to include this thought component to the movement process is vital. In an uninjured person every voluntary movement begins in the motor cortex with thought, where the movement signal is ultimately sent to a muscle to produce movement. The way that HAL replicates this process is by attaching sensors on the wearer’s skin which receive these bio-electric signals (BES) from the brain. Upon receiving these signals, the body begins to move, causing the device to move as well, thereby assisting and adding power to human motion.

We are getting closer and closer to a device that will free those with spinal cord injuries, and other neurological injuries, from the restraint of a wheelchair. HAL is an amazing, well executed device.

Please visit the site for more information and sales inquiries. HAL has multiple variations of its product, including lumbar support for lifting and a cleaning robot.

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It is the exoskeleton which ignited my love for robotics, a device which both mirrors and enhances human function without replacing it. As with most technology, as the robotic exoskeleton develops it is moving away from bulky and functional to sleek and precise.

One such example of this development is the Cyclone Rope Piston by Rise Robotics. Rise Robotics has created an actuator (motor) which, paired with cables efficiently transfers power to the user. Just as a particular movement, such as holding something while bending and straightening the arm, is easier if a muscle is able to work throughout the entire range of motion, this motor helps generate power throughout the entire movement of the user. The development of such a motor potentially makes an exoskeleton much more functionally strong by generating more efficient power throughout the entire range of movement of the user.

The Cyclone Rope Piston allows for a lightweight wearable robot to assist with either strenuous activity for an able-bodied person, or movement assistance for rehabilitative purposes. This product is still in the funding phase.

For a more detailed explanation of the impressive and innovative mechanics of this system, I would recommend watching the extremely well made video below:

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There is no doubt that robotics is changing and improving the field of healthcare. While there are many brilliant products being introduced in this field, it is the robotic exoskeleton that I personally find the most amazing. To think that one day we can completely eradicate the long term use of wheelchairs for people with neurological injuries and replace them with a wearable robot which allows them to stand and walk is absolutely inspiring.

The Indego is one of these devices. Weighing in at 26 pounds, this modular device comes in 5 pieces and is put on in components over the legs, hips and torso. The light frame of the device allows users to keep it on even while in a wheelchair prior to use. The device responds to weight shifts in order to guide movement. A forward lean allows the device to help users stand and walk, while leaning backward stops movement. Modular components at the hip and legs propel forward movement at the joints once initiated.

Currently only available for research purposes in rehabilitation centers, the website states it anticipates commercial sales in the US in 2016.

See the video below for demonstration and more information:

The age of robotics has created a new kind of athlete, and the possibilities are quite amazing. 2016 will mark the first Cybathlon, to be held in Switzerland. This will be a competition for parathletes, called “pilots,” using robot-assisted technology. The competition is an Olympics-style event, featuring six different competitions, or “disciplines.” Each discipline features pilots with a specific category of injury using an appropriate device. In this competition, both the pilots and robotics companies are allowed the opportunity to win a prize. This competition is not only a victory for the advancement of robotics beyond basic function, but more importantly for athletes with life altering injuries such as amputations and spinal cord injuries.

The first competition will is an “Arms Prosthetic Race,” which features two events. Those with amputation of the arms using upper body bionic prosthetics to complete a two hand course using a loop around a wire, and a “SHAP course ADL” which is an upper body obstacle course requiring pilots to perform a series of tasks, grasping different kinds of objects in order to progress to the next.

The second discipline is a BCI (brain computer interface) race, in which participants mentally race avatars through a variety of obstacle courses. This discipline is for those with spinal cord injury at neck level, which has left them paralyzed from the neck down.

The discipline close to heart, however, is the “Powered Exoskeleton Race.” Did we ever think we would see a day when athletes with spinal cord injuries leaving their lower body without motor control would run in an Olympic-style event? This discipline will feature an obstacle course including stairs, ramps, slopes, narrow beam and others, ending in a final sprint. Wow.

For those with spinal cord injuries leaving their trunk and upper body motor control intact, Discipline three features an FES (Functional Electrical Stimulation) bike race. An FES bike assists lower body movement while the trunk and arms work to help control the bike around a race course.

A Leg Prosthetics Race and Powered Wheelchair Race comprise two other disciplines for those with lower body injuries.