Physical disabilities that often result in leg weakness include lower-extremity amputation, spinal-cord impairment (SCI), multiple sclerosis (MS) and stroke. For individuals who have suffered partial leg paralysis resulting from neurological pathology, the use of exoskeleton technology will offer a dramatic improvement in mobility capabilities over conventional leg orthotic technology.
The Biomechatronics group is leveraging its understanding of human locomotion and its experience in prosthetic limb design towards the development of exoskeletons (Walsh et al., 2006; 2007). These wearable assistive structures help augment human mobility, increase human endurance and assist physically-challenged persons. The group’s walking exoskeleton is an orthotic system that works in parallel to the body, transmitting forces between the ground and the user’s torso during standing and walking, effectively reducing the portion of body weight borne by the legs and making it easier for a disabled person to stand and to walk. Because the exoskeleton offers support normally provided by biological legs, physically disabled people suffering from leg weakness may walk with confidence while wearing it (Dollar and Herr, 2007, 2008).
In particular, the exoskeleton work developed at Biomechatronics Group looks into the passive dynamics of human walking in order to create lighter and more efficient devices with three specific goals in mind. Firstly, the exoskeleton currently under development aims to be the first wearable system that demonstrates a reduction in human energy usage during walking. Secondly, the exoskeleton should serve in potentially life-saving occupations, increasing the user’s endurance while reducing damaging loads on the knee and ankle. These potential users include active soldiers and firefighters, among others, who perform activities that require brisk movement over varying terrain while burdened with significant loads. Finally, this technology aims to assist impaired human mobility. This exoskeleton architecture could be modified into a walking orthosis which permits an active lifestyle by reducing load on injured joints while providing the necessary support for normal walking to patients with otherwise limited mobility.
Read more about this issue in the article “Innovation: changing the face of disability”