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New Exoskeleton Suit May Offer Paralyzed More Movement

  • Deborah Block

Life-changing metal exoskeleton suits, wearable robots, have been helping paralyzed people move. The device is worn over the body and delivers power to help people move their limbs.

But the bulky suits make anything, other than walking in a straight line, difficult and slow. Now, a more flexible and less constraining version is being developed in Zurich, Switzerland to provide more freedom of movement.

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Sensory Motor Laboratory, are working on a prototype that would allow people who are paralyzed, or severely disabled, to walk, turn and climb in more directions.

“Besides walking in a straight line,” said researcher Volker Bartenbach, “you might be able to walk sideways in front of your kitchen counter or something like that, to walk stairs up and down. Also to turn around on the spot.”

Today, more survivors of strokes and spinal cord injuries are wearing a metal exoskeleton. The suit at the Sensory Motor Laboratory better replicates the natural motion of people’s lower limbs.

“We have here the hip joint, so if I move my leg like this, the exoskeleton provides this degree of freedom,” Bartenbach demonstrated. “We can rotate our hip around this axis, which we need, for example, if you turn around on the spot. We are testing this technical solution, how to reproduce it.”

Bartenbach plans to construct an exoskeleton, as an alternative to a wheelchair, for people with spinal paralysis.