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Exosuit Prototype Unveiled for Stroke Survivors

Robotic exosuit

Robotic exosuit being tested (Biodesign Lab, Harvard University)

19 June 2017. An assistive device with sensors and motors designed to help people with stroke and other muscle disorders walk more normally was demonstrated on 16 June. The specialized exoskeleton is a prototype made by medical device company ReWalk Robotics Ltd. in Yokneam, Israel with the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

As reported in Science & Enterprise in May 2016, ReWalk is licensing research from the Harvard’s Biodesign Lab to develop an assistive device for people with limited mobility, such as those recovering from a stroke or with disorders like multiple sclerosis. ReWalk is already marketing exoskeletons for people who lost full use of their legs, such as those with spinal cord injury. These devices use sensors and motors built into a rigid, lightweight frame to help restore walking ability with a gait resembling normal stepping motions.

The new device is designed to take advantage of the limited mobility available to people with stroke or multiple sclerosis, and thus is smaller and lighter than the full ReWalk exoskeleton. In the collaboration with Wyss Institute, ReWalk licensed the work of engineering professor Conor Walsh, also on the Wyss Institute faculty, studying soft exosuits. Walsh’s research investigates advanced fabrics with built-in sensors that make it possible for control systems to activate robotic motors to help achieve a natural stepping motion.

To provide this kind of support for people with limited mobility requires more complex systems than earlier exoskeletons for the fabrics and control systems to interact with the robotics. Sensors in the exosuit react not only to movements by the wearer, but also tensions in the fabrics, which act as extensions of the robotic devices. The exosuit blurs the line between apparel and robotics, where its fabrics are worn tightly on the body to provide support and sense all muscular activity in the legs, yet are also designed to be comfortable.

The exosuit’s actuator and control systems, worn on a belt at the waist, are also more sophisticated. The exosuit needs to detect and anticipate the intent of the wearer to provide added mobility to the limbs at the right time and with the amount of force required. At the same time, muscle movements not needing an assist remain unconstrained.

The system demonstrated on Friday is brand-named Restore that adapts software and mechanics from ReWalk’s exoskeleton, but adapt the technology to the somewhat more mobile users. The device, says ReWalk, transmits power with cables built into the fabric to joints in the legs and feet. The company says the system will have a lower price than the exoskeleton providing mobility to people who lost full use of their legs.

ReWalk says it plans to have Restore commercially available in 2018, following clinical trials and regulatory approvals. The first versions are expected to serve people recovering from a stroke, followed by individuals with multiple sclerosis. A report on Yahoo Finance includes a video demonstrating Restore.

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