Italian exoskeleton gets disabled users walking and standing

A new robotic exoskeleton could allow people who have lost the use of their legs to stand up and even walk. It may also help get them walking unaided again, by guiding their movements and holding them up as they take part in rehabilitative therapy.

Known as Twin, the Italian-designed lower-body exoskeleton was unveiled this Friday during a press conference held at the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan.

It’s currently still in prototype form, and is being developed by scientists from the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology) and the Istituto Nazionale Assicurazione Infortuni sul Lavoro (National Institute for Insurance against Accidents at Work).

Made for use by patients with reduced or nonexistent motor ability in the lower body, it moves their legs via motors located at the knee and hip joints. Those motors are powered by an onboard battery, which should reportedly be good for about four hours of use per one-hour charge.

Different sizes of foot and ankle supports are available, plus the size of the exoskeleton can be adjusted via telescopic links adjacent to the wearer's femur and tibia
Different sizes of foot and ankle supports are available, plus the size of the exoskeleton can be adjusted via telescopic links adjacent to the wearer’s femur and tibia

Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia

Twin can be utilized in three different operational modes.

In Walk mode, which is intended for people who have no use of their legs at all, the exoskeleton moves the user’s legs for them, plus it helps them to sit down and stand up. The person still does need to use crutches for balance, as is the case with other assistive exoskeletons such as those made by ReWalk.

Retrain mode is intended for patients who still have some lower-limb motor function, as it allows them to walk on their own as much as they’re able, but kicks in with an adjustable level of assistance when needed. Throughout the process, the exoskeleton is guiding them towards a predetermined optimal leg-movement trajectory.

Finally there’s TwinCare mode, which is intended for individuals who have full use of one leg, but not of the other. In this case, the exoskeleton boosts the movement of the affected leg so it matches the movement of the healthy leg. In all three modes, a physiotherapist or the user themselves can tweak gait parameters such as stride length/type and walking speed via a wirelessly linked Android tablet.

According to its designers, two things that set Twin apart from similar exoskeletons are the facts that it’s made of lightweight materials – aluminum alloy instead of steel, for example – plus it features a modular design that allows components to be removed for transport or upgrading.

The device has been in development since the end of 2013, and should hopefully enter production soon. It can be seen in use, in the video below.


Source: Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia

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