The exoskeleton as a mobility aid

16/05/2019

Have you ever noticed that invertebrates have an external skeleton to protect themselves from predators? It allows them to walk, maintain their hydration and adapt to different environments. We call this structure an exoskeleton. This naturally occurring physical medium in insects and molluscs is the basis of many inventions and research in science and technology.

In the medical and rehabilitation field, the exoskeleton is a device that reproduces the movements of walking. This structure thus compensates for the loss of mobility among the elderly, the injured or those suffering from any disability. Today, different models from around the world are developing to solve this situation. Some are more discreet or aesthetic than others. Nevertheless, they all have their utility and fuel a positive craze in the media or at scientific conferences.

Where do they come from?

Highly employed in the military and the industrial sector, exoskeletons are booming thanks to robotics and the increased development of new mechanical technologies and neuroscience. However, the concept of exoskeleton has existed since the 1970s1. It was used in military experiments to improve the physical capabilities of soldiers (carry significant loads, withstand thermal shocks), evacuate more quickly and protect them against new weapons of the century. It did not take much time before the concept was borrowed by medicine and models of exoskeletons were created for this purpose.

Its usefulness in medicine

Contrary to the industrial and military characteristics of the exoskeleton, its medical purpose is very simple: it is to offer to persons deprived of mobility a reliable, comfortable and effective way to move, to keep a good balance and to keep a certain autonomy. The stakes are high. Several variables are to be taken into account such as the movement, the materials, the cost of production, the purchase price, the durability of the product, and the list goes on. And we must not forget that the wearer of the exoskeleton must still be supervised by a nurse or a relative.

In order for people to have a social life and preserve their dignity, the exoskeleton represents the ideal breakthrough. Indeed, the psychological and physical impact of reduced mobility is very serious. The feeling of seclusion, helplessness and abandonment can aggravate the situation of the person concerned as well as those close to him. Being able to move thanks to a safe and adapted tool therefore greatly improves the quality of life.

Some world examples

One of the best known exoskeletons in the middle is the ReWalk. This exoskeleton is an orthosis of the lower limb allowing those concerned with reduced mobility to walk, but also to move on the stairs! It is the first exoskeleton in the United States that received a market authorization in 20142. Its lifespan is five years and is used as a complementary aid to rehabilitation.

In Europe, the Wandercraft company developed in 2012 the first exoskeleton that replicates the movements of the human body. According to their official website3, it comes alive with "twelve robotized joints, animated by ultra-fast electronics". Thanks to many advances in 2016 and 2017 with paraplegics, Wandercraft now has an international reputation in the field of robotics.

Finally, in Canada, B-TEMIA Inc. creates a walking assistance device called the Keeogo. Incorporating bio-robotic technology, "Keeogo is on the legs and gives you the muscle strength you need when you need it. The device detects the position of your body and your movements, and interprets your mobility intentions to help you achieve them4. This exoskeleton is approved by Health Canada. This medical device assists people affected by mobility problems, but who initiate movements themselves and have a satisfactory balance.

- Katherine Massicotte

SOURCES

1 http://parisinnovationreview.com/article/exosquelettes-medicaux-naissance-dune-industrie

2 https://www.cadth.ca/fr/vd/ieht-fr/rewalk-exosquelette-robotique-destine-aux-personnes-atteintes-de-lesions-medullaires

3 http://www.wandercraft.eu/

4 https://keeogo.com/fr /a-propos/quest-ce-que-keeogo

MORE INFORMATION

http://www.b-temia.com

https://rewalk.com/

https://ici.radio-canada.ca/tele/decouverte/2015-2016/segments/reportage/6181/exosquelette

 

https://junior.universalis.fr/encyclopedie/exosquelette

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