Exoskeletons Are On The Way

Exoskeleton

As humans, we have a skeleton inside of us which provides us with support. Animals such as insects (grasshoppers and cockroaches) and crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters, have an external skeleton called an exoskeleton. The exoskeletons provide the animals with support and protection. Robotic exoskeletons for humans can do that and much more. As batteries, computer chips, motors, and sensors have gotten smaller and more powerful, robotic exoskeletons have arrived to provide amazing new benefits for humans.

Founded in 2005, Richmond, CA based Ekso Bionics develops and manufactures powered exoskeleton bionic devices that can be strapped on as wearable robots. The sophisticated devices enhance the strength, mobility, and endurance of soldiers and paraplegics and others with physical challenges. The Ekso Bionics’ EksoGT™ is a wearable exoskeleton which can be of great benefit to patients who are debilitated with stroke, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, or multiple sclerosis. The FDA has cleared the product for use in rehabilitation. Although expensive, the exoskeleton software and motors can supplement a physical therapist where two therapists would otherwise be needed. The software can calculate how much force it needs to provide based on what it senses when the patient moves a foot and then makes an exertion to lift it. Over time, the exoskeleton can help a debilitated patient learn how to walk again.

The robotic exoskeleton straps to a patient’s legs. The onboard computers gather data from the exoskeleton’s sensors and electric motors. Based on data from the hips, knees, and legs, the exoskeleton determines what motion the motors need to provide to move the patient’s legs. The assistance provided is different for a completely paralyzed patient and one which just needs enhanced movement as the leg moves through various cycles of the desired gait.

MDT Machine Design Technology quoted Adam Zoss, lead engineer and staff scientist at Ekso Bionics who said, “The robot doesn’t do everything, but makes up for what the person needs. Not as many sensors and motors are needed because the robot isn’t controlling 100 percent of what is going on,” says  “The person provides situational awareness and decides what they want to do, and the robot leverages the intellectual and physical input.”

Zoss says that exoskeletons with advanced sensors and software can achieve better rehab outcomes providing strength and coordination to help therapists be more productive. The technology can also be less tiresome and safer for the therapist. Helping a patient learn to walk requires the therapist to be bent down or even on the floor. With the exoskeleton, they can stand up and walk behind the patient as shown in the picture above. Zoss said, “Exoskeletons will become an expected standard of care after an injury in rehab settings. But the 50-year vision is clear. They will be used for general mobility improvement for anyone with impaired walking or who needs help in daily life, and as an alternative to a wheelchair.”

The future of robots is not without fear mongering. Some say they will take away all the jobs. Others worry robots will one day be so smart and capable they may decide they no longer have a need for humans. Thousands of people with disabilities such as described in this short article will embrace the robotic exoskeletons as a positive and life changing opportunity.

Read the full story as reported by MDT here.

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