Next-Generation Exoskeletons Help Patients Move

Walsh belongs to a growing group of researchers worldwide who are using small, lightweight robotics to help people with a range of medical conditions that hinder mobility. Rigid, whole-body “exoskeletons” have made headlines in recent years—perhaps most famously when a suit developed by Duke University neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis and colleagues enabled a 29-year-old paraplegic Brazilian man to kick a soccer ball at the launch of the 2014 World Cup in São Paulo. Such exoskeletons have helped paralyzed people to walk again, albeit awkwardly, by pushing, pulling, and supporting them to stand up and move one leg followed by the other. But Walsh and other researchers have realized that people with less-disabling conditions need a subtler boost. Now, teams around the world are developing smaller, lighter devices that help, rather than drive, movement. And sewn into clothes, they can be donned as easily as pulling on pants, a shirt, or gloves…
BABY STEPS: Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are working to develop a device that supports the foot’s ability to push off the ground to aid in walking.