Those unable to walk may soon have an option in a new robotic leg brace.
The Welwalk WW-1000 system, designed by Toyota, is a motorized mechanical frame that fits on a person’s leg from the knee down. The robotic leg brace was created for patients severely paralyzed on one side of their body due to a stroke or other ailment to help them learn how to walk again.
Patients practice walking wearing the robotic device on a special treadmill that can support their weight.
On April 12 at the Toyota Motor Corp’s Tokyo headquarters, a women demonstrated the leg brace by strapping the brace to her thigh, knee, ankle and foot and walking on the treadmill.
The demonstrator’s body was supported from above by a harness and the motor helped to bend and strengthen her knee. Sensors in the device monitored the walking and adjusted quickly to assist. Medical staff could control the system through a touch panel screen.
The breakthrough is especially important in Japan, as the elderly, their fast-aging population, is particularly susceptible to strokes.
Eiichi Saito, a medical doctor and executive vice president at Fujita Health University, which partnered with Toyota, said patients using the device can recover quicker because the sensitive robotic sensor fine-tunes the level of support better than a human therapist is able to.
Toshiyuki Isobe, Toyota’s chief officer for research, said Welwalk reflects the company’s aim to apply robotics in medicine and other social welfare areas.
“Our vision is about trying to deliver mobility for everybody,” Isobe said in a statement. “We have been developing industrial robotics for auto manufacturing and we are trying to figure out how we can use that technology to fill social needs and help people more.”
Medical facilities in Japan will be able to rent these systems this year. The service costs a one-time $9,000 fee and a $3,200 monthly fee.