---- PROTOTYPE --------- PURPOSE: To design a prototype of an advanced exoskeleton that enables individuals with paraplegia (severe spinal cord injury) to stand, walk, sit and, climb stairs.
A team of engineers at Vanderbilt University’s Center for Intelligent Mechatronics has developed a powered exoskeleton that enables people with severe spinal cord injuries to stand, walk, sit and climb stairs. Its light weight, compact size and modular design promise to provide users with an unprecedented degree of independence. The Vanderbilt exoskeleton is similar to other exoskeleton devices that it is an “external” skeleton and is strapped tightly around the torso. The rigid supports are strapped to the legs and extend from the hip to the knee 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. The Vanderbilt exoskeleton weighs about 27 pounds, nearly half the weight of the other models that weigh around 45 pounds. The other models are also bulkier so most users wearing them cannot fit into a standard-sized wheelchair. The developers compare their exoskeleton a “Segway with legs.” The person wearing the device leans forward making he or she move forward. If the individual leans back and holds that position for a few sections then he or she sits down. When sitting down, if the individual leans forward and holds that position for a few second he or she stands up. None of the current exoskeletons have been approved yet for home use but the Vanderbilt design has some intrinsic advantages. It has a modular design and is lighter and slimmer than the competition. As a result, it can provide its users with an unprecedented degree of independence. Users will be able to transport the compact device on the back of their wheelchair. When they reach a location where they want to walk, they will be able to put on the exoskeleton by themselves without getting out of the wheelchair. When they are done walking, they can sit back down in the same chair and take the device off or keep it on and propel the wheelchair to their next destination. The price tag of other rehabilitation model exoskeletons has been cost-prohibitive. Developers of the Vanderbilt exoskeleton have not set a price for the device but are hopeful they will be with its minimalist design combined and other manufacturing capability factor the device will translate into a more affordable product. Exoskeleton devices are useful for getting individuals out of his or her wheelchairs and getting their bodies upright. This may lead to major health dividends as individuals who must rely on a wheelchair to move around can develop serious problems with their urinary, respiratory, cardiovascular and digestive systems, as well as getting osteoporosis, pressure sores, blood clots and other afflictions associated with lack of mobility. The risk for developing these conditions can be reduced considerably by regularly standing, moving and exercising their lower limbs. AUTHOR: David Salisbury. TITLE: Advanced exoskeleton promises more independence for people with paraplegia. WEBSITE: Research News at Vanderbilt University. REF: http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2012/10/exoskeleton.