New Exoskeleton Helping Disabled Walk, Stand

A new robotic exoskeleton could allow people to stand up and even walk.

Image credits: Rehab Technologies Lab (Youtube screenshot)

Those who have lost the ability to move their legs may be able to stand and maybe walk again thanks to a new robotic exoskeleton. Through holding them up and guiding their motions while they participate in rehabilitative therapy, it may also help them walk unassisted once more.

The lower-body exoskeleton, called Twin, was shown on Friday at a press conference at the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan. It is the product of Italian design, reports Ben Coxworth in New Atlas.

Scientists from the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (the Italian Institute of Technology) and the Istituto Nazionale Assicurazione Infortuni sul Lavoro (the National Institute for Insurance against Accidents at Work) are developing it; it is now only in prototype form.

It is designed for individuals whose lower body motor function is limited or nonexistent. The motors in question move the patient's legs through the knee and hip joints. The onboard battery that powers those motors is said to be capable of providing four hours of operation on a single hour of charge.

Twin can be utilized in three different operational modes.

The exoskeleton moves the user's legs in the Walk mode, which is designed for individuals who have no use of their legs at all. It also assists the user in sitting and standing. As with previous helpful exoskeletons, such those manufactured by ReWalk, the user still requires crutches for balance.

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Retrain mode lets patients walk as independently as possible while providing an adjustable level of help as necessary. It is designed for those who still have some lower-limb motor function. The exoskeleton is directing them toward a preset ideal leg-movement trajectory during the procedure.

Lastly, there is the TwinCare mode, designed for people who can fully use one leg but not the other. In this instance, the exoskeleton increases the afflicted leg's range of motion to match that of the healthy leg. Using a wirelessly connected Android tablet, a physiotherapist or the user themselves can adjust gait parameters including stride length/type and walking speed in all three modes.

Twin's modular design, which permits components to be removed for transportation or updating, and its use of lightweight materials—aluminum alloy rather than steel, for example—are two qualities that, according to its designers, set it apart from other exoskeletons of a similar type.

Since the end of 2013, the device has been in development, and production should presumably start soon. In the video below, you can see it in action.

Sam Draper
March 4, 2024

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