New Exoskeleton Offers Greater Mobility For Paraplegics

Story by: Aleksandra Stefanova, Sub-Editor: Joseph Golder, Agency: Central European News

Video credit: CEN/EPFL

A team of scientists has developed a groundbreaking exoskeleton that paraplegics can put on themselves without needing anyone to help.

Scientists at EPFL’s Robotic Systems Laboratory (LSRO) in Lausanne in Switzerland have now unveiled video of the new version of their lower-limb exoskeleton called ‘TWIICE One’.

In 2016, the team began working with Swiss former acrobat Silke Pan, who became a handcycling champion when she lost the use of her legs following a trapeze accident.

Her input allowed the scientists to create a robotic system that can fully support the weight of a human body and guide the person’s steps.

Their TWIICE design won fourth place at the 2016 Cybathlon in Zurich in Switzerland and took home the gold medal at the 2017 Cybathlon in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Users can now put on and take off TWIICE One by themselves. It is narrower and lighter, twice as efficient and most importantly, as Pan says, “gives us even greater independence”.

This enhanced autonomy is a crucial step forward for Pan, who appreciates being able to do things herself.

TWIICE One also has two electric motors on each leg that enable patients to move their hip and knee joints. These are integrated into the structure, making it less cumbersome.

It still weighs the same at 16 kilogrammes (35.2 lbs) and has the same three-hour battery life. A control device in one of the crutches allows users to choose from three walking speeds and go up and down stairs.

Pan said: “Walking requires less strength, but you still need to concentrate on keeping your body upright.”

The next step for the research team is to develop and market the new technology. They are in the process of creating a startup company – also called TWIICE – to produce and sell the exoskeletons.

Picture credit: CEN/EPFL