A team at Switzerland-based École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) has created a composite exoskeleton that is helping people with paraplegia stand, walk and even climb stairs. The exoskeleton, known as “TWIICE,” was developed at EPFL’s Robotic Systems Laboratory (LSRO).
According to Health Canal, one of the major advantages of the system is the lightness (14 kg) is gets from being made with composites. The lightness allows TWIICE to become one with the user. The hip and knee joints are flexed and extended by two electric motors per leg, and the exoskeleton’s charge lasts for three hours. The device can bear the entire weight of the user, but the user still needs crutches. There are also buttons in the handles to actuate steps and set the pace for one’s gait.
“Our goal is to make the vertical world accessible to handicapped people,” said Mohamed Bouri, a group leader at the LSRO and the project supervisor. “In several years, it will undoubtedly be common to see people in exoskeletons standing up and walking around outside or in stores.”
EPFL says the device is not ready for the general public, but the researchers have come up with a prototype that is both safe and operational enough for testing and for use in a competition. The prototype of TWIICE was put to work during the 2016 Cybathlon, a sports competition for disabled athletes who use assistive technologies.
In the future, EPFL will work on making the exoskeleton even lighter and easier to control. It will have built-in walking programs so that users won’t have to control every step and so that the motions will become more fluid and natural.
“We came up with a very flexible production method,” said Tristan Vouga, a Ph.D student in microengineering and the person behind the concept. “It makes it easy to produce exoskeletons that can fit different body types and work with different handicaps.”