Pushin' On: UAB Spinal Cord Injury Model System Digital Newsletter Volume 33 | Number 1 - Page 4

TECHNOLOGY WATCH Assisted Walking with Unpowered Exoskeletons (Video) There is a race among a few companies to lead the way in exoskeleton technology. These full-body devices promise of providing many people with spinal cord injury (SCI) with a powered exoskeleton to do what their nerves and muscles can no longer do, walk! The big drawback, of course, is price. Exoskeletons are very expensive and not currently covered by insurance. This means it is not likely to get on the bodies of those who need them anytime soon. But what about unpowered exoskeletons? Researchers at Carnegie Mellon and North Carolina State universities have come up with an unpowered device that might help people with SCI who have limited lower body strength to get back a more “natural” walk. The device is modeled on the way the calf muscle works. The device is worn like a boot. A simple spring and a built-in clutch reduce the amount of energy a person uses when walking. This can make walking easier for some people with spinal cord injury, especially lower levels of injury. Click to read the full study, “Reducing the energy cost of human walking using an unpowered exoskeleton.” Unpowered Upper Body Vest Lightens the Load on the Arm Many people have weaker Enhancing Suit (SEnS). The wearable movement, strength, control and prototype is built to augment movement, coordination of their shoulder and strength and control of muscle arm muscles after spinal cord injury. movement in the shoulders and arms. Even a little improvement in those It is inexpensive because it is made of areas can be a tremendous benefit in flexible fabrics using regular cloth and daily life. does not include motors, actuators or Research has provided knowledge electronics. in how the human musculoskeletal Both high-tech and low-tech devices system moves and functions during have a lot of potential to help people everyday activities. These discoveries with spinal cord injury. High-tech have led to a wave of research into devices, such as exoskeletons, are sure how to boost muscle strength and to get smaller, lighter and cheaper with improve function for people with advances in technologies, but they are various disabilities. likely years away from daily use. LowHigh-tech exoskeletons from tech devices, such as the SEnS, are companies like Rewalk and Exso more likely to end up on people’s bodies Bionics are aiming to accomplish this faster. The SEnS is not available to buy goal. These devices are impressive, yet, but it, and others like it, are on the but they have sizable drawbacks. way. They are difficult to get on and “Human muscular movement is welloff because they contain heavy known anatomically and physiologically,” electronic motors and pneumatic said Yuichi Kurita at the Institute of actuators. They are also very Engineering at Hiroshima University. expensive, costing about $100,000 “SEnS is designed to improve that insurance does not cover. sensorimotor performance during use. In Tthe Sensorimotor Enhancing Suit Scientists at Hiroshima University in the future, we can develop made-to-order Japan, Georgia Tech, and JapaneseSEnS in keeping with individual muscle based Smart Support Technologies Inc. have developed movements using our technique.” a low-tech option. The device is called the Sensorimotor Read the press release 4 uab.edu/sci