An exoskeleton has been developed specifically for children with spinal muscular atrophy for the first time, enabling them to walk for up to five hours.
Spinal muscular atrophy is a genetic condition that affects the motor neurons which control muscle movement.
Developed by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), the 12kg exoskeleton is built from aluminum and titanium, and has long support rods that fit around the child's legs and torso that can be adjusted as they grow.
‘Spinal muscular atrophy causes progressive general muscular weakness, leading to scoliosis and osteoporosis, lung dysfunction and other complications.
There are five motors in each leg that mimic human muscles, helping the child stand and move. In addition to sensors and a movement controller, there is direct user control over all five motors. The exoskeleton detects the slightest intent of muscle movement and responds accordingly.
"The number one drawback in developing this type of pediatric exoskeleton is that the symptoms of neuromuscular illness — such as spinal muscular atrophy — change over time," said Elena Garcia, senior researcher at the Automatics and Robotics Center in Madrid.
"That's why it's fundamental to have an exoskeleton capable of independently adapting to these changes," she continued. "Our model includes intelligence joints which alter the brace's rigidity automatically and adapt to the symptoms of each individual child at whenever required."