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World's first child-sized exoskeleton gets kids on their feet

Engadget Engadget 10/06/2016 Andrew Dalton

The Spanish National Research Council, a.k.a. CSIC, has created a kid-sized exoskeleton designed specifically for children suffering from spinal muscular atrophy. Because SMA causes a loss of motor neurons, the patient's body starts to wither away to the point where many child patients end up bedridden and unable to walk. Built from aluminum and titanium, the 26-pound machine uses five assistive motors in each leg to actually help the child keep active and avoid further complications from immobility.

Those leg motors include sensors to detect "the slightest intention of movement," and an onboard computer then follows the child's steps to create the smoothest mechanical gait possible. Because children are constantly growing and moving, the whole setup is designed with telescoping supports that get taller with the patient.

CSIC's "smart" approach is similar to the algorithm that SRI Ventures recently built into the Superflex soft exosuit, and with a little tweaking the algorithm could probably help extend the CISC suit's five-hour battery life. Finally, the CISC is currently testing the exoskeleton with three child volunteers in Madrid and Barcelona, but in the U.S., Harvard engineers have teamed up with ReWalk Robotics to test and eventually market a similar, soft exosuit designed for adults with limited mobility.

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