A new exoskeleton may help paralyzed people stand and possibly walk.
Bionik Laboratories, based in Boston and Toronto, has created ARKE, a one-size fits all exoskeleton that connects to the company’s cloud software to assist wheelchair-bound individuals with standing and walking during rehabilitation.
Michal Prywata, Bionik’s co-founder and chief technology officer, said in an interview with R&D Magazine, that the exoskeleton, which is currently in clinical testing, was created to help disabled people regain some normalcy in their lives.
“It’s essentially an exoskeleton that allows people who are severely disabled to walk,” he said. “The device has a series of sensors and control algorithms that allow the person to do that.
“Not that someone who is paralyzed could 100 percent recover because their spine is severed, but there are a lot of negative side effects of being seated all day,” he added.
ARKE is constructed with carbon fiber, aluminum and steel and connects to Bionik’s cloud software where data is analyzed and displayed back to the physiotherapist in real-time. ARKE would be the first exoskeleton with tablet control integration.
Prywata said ARKE’s major advantage over other exoskeletons is its ability to contort to the individual user.
“We’ve developed dynamic walking gait trajectories based on the user’s profile,” he said. “The device senses their weight, it knows their size, their height and it basically will adjust how it walks based on the person that’s inside of it.
“It is kind of like a one device fits all because it is fully adjustable for any type of person that goes into it,” he added. “All those sensors work in unison, sending information to the main processing unit, which sends information to the motors on how they are supposed to behave. What that information tells the central processing unit is the balance of the person, how they are shifting their body weight.”
Prywata explained developing exoskeletons is difficult because, unlike other forms of assistive technology, an exoskeleton must account for several human variables.
“With the exoskeleton technology it is a little riskier because they are paralyzed and you are taking them from a wheel chair and putting them upright, they are not used to it,” he said. “The technology involved is a little more difficult, there is a lot more sensing that has to happen, there is a lot more real-time analysis that has to happen, there is machine learning involved.
“There’s a lot more that could potentially go wrong, so it is just a riskier situation,” he added. “What happens when they lose their balance or take a wrong step, the system has to be able to compensate for those things.”
According to Prywata, ARKE is designed for therapy use and is unlikely to be able to be used by patients at home.
However, Bionik is creating an exoskeleton that would be more suitable for consumer use in the home, targeting older individuals who may be struggling to walk.
“They just need that extra boost to be able to comfortably walk,” Prywata said, adding that there are an estimated 18 million people in the U.S. who cannot walk more than a quarter of a mile.