One of the most exciting uses for wearable robots is in clinical settings where they’re used to help patients with neurological disorders and physical disabilities. One example could be rehabilitation robot technology that helps a patient with paraplegia brought on by a complete or incomplete spinal cord injury to walk again. They can also be used to help patients who have had a stroke with gait training to regain their original gait and help them improve their balance and posture. They can help the rehabilitation process of patients who have suffered traumatic brain injuries as well. Generally speaking, robots used for these purposes are strong enough to perform all of a patient’s movements for them if necessary, and they also have to be strong enough to support each patient’s full weight, up to 250lbs for some exoskeletons.
Ekso’s latest medical exoskeleton for neurorehabilitation, the EksoNR, is a great example of one of these robots. This is the first exoskeleton to be cleared by the FDA for treatments involving strokes, acquired brain injuries, and SCI. This powered exoskeleton robot assists patients with recovering their natural gait by promoting neuroplasticity and targeting intensity, thus teaching patients’ brains and muscles to work together to walk again. This device may help wheelchair users transition to crutches or a cane and assist those patients from using an assistive device to eventually walking under their own power.
This device provides full support to the spine and lower extremities while also helping patients maintain good posture. Like most exoskeletons, the device wraps around the patient’s chest and waist while using a torso pad and rigid back to support the spine. This particular device also provides full support to the hips, thighs, knee joints, and ankle joints. The robotic device can then perform the full movements of the patient’s lower limbs if needed, or it can assist with patient-initiated movement. Naturally, the exoskeleton is strong enough to support each patient’s own weight, up to 220lbs.
This exoskeleton robot also features pre-gait exercise programs to allow users to practice stepping in place, squatting, shifting their weight, and other exercises before they begin each session. Patients can take their time adapting from a wheelchair to the assistive device, and sensors and data capture capabilities allow for easy systematic reviews of progress in a clinical setting. Once a patient has gained strength, balance, and coordination, they can begin working on advanced gait such as walking backward, side-stepping, and even walking with added resistance.