Exoskeletons Help Patients Regain Mobility

June 28, 2018 Last Updated: June 28, 2018

Biomedical engineers are creating an exoskeleton that can assist in the rehabilitation of patients and help them regain mobility after large medical procedures. The exoskeleton is made out of aeronautical aluminium and weighs about 26.5 pounds.

Pablo Albisua Albizu is one of the people whose life has changed thanks to the new exoskeleton technology. Just after heart surgery, Pablo suffered a stroke that left one side of his body paralyzed. He volunteered to test a new exoskeleton that was specially designed as an additional rehabilitation tool for stroke patients.

“It worked,” Pablo said. “Before, when I went shopping in a car, we went around and around to find parking places as close as possible to the shops. And if I was not able to find one, I often just drove back home.”

He explained that he lacked the strength to walk and couldn’t even travel short distances. However, the exoskeleton was introduced as a rehabilitation tool, allowing him to slowly start walking again.

The exoskeletons offer customized treatment and has six motors that help patients correct their walking patterns. Variables such as speed or movement angles can be easily customized depending on the needs of each patient.

“This exoskeleton gives us two advantages,” explained Iker Mariñelarena Arrizabalaga, a biomedical engineer at GOGOA Mobility Robots. First, the design of the exoskeleton can help to correct a patient’s body movements. The second advantage is the ability to customize treatment for each patient’s needs.

The exoskeleton guarantees accuracy while repeating movements, unlike classical rehabilitation that may not always guarantee accuracy or efficiency.

The whole system is based on the “assistance as needed” concept. The exoskeleton will first use sensors to gauge the efforts of the patient and supplement only what is necessary. The goal is to motivate the patient to make as much effort as possible, while helping them recover from their injuries.

Scientists from this European research project are also looking for ways to further improve their exoskeletons. “We want to be able to give voice orders to the exoskeleton instead of using tablets or phones,” says Carlos Fernández Isoird, GOGOA CEO and HANK project coordinator. This would allow for further customization and allow physiotherapists to help their patients more easily.

While still waiting final product approval, the exoskeleton is expected to go on the market—mainly in hospitals and rehabilitation centers—in less than six months. Researchers expect the cost to be around $70,000 for an exoskeleton.