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The first robotic exoskeleton in the world for children is Spanish: this is how it has been developed

In addition to being an industrial engineer and doctor in robotics, Elena García Armada is the Spanish scientist who has created the world’s first adaptable robotic exoskeleton for children. This finding has earned him the nomination as a finalist for the European Inventor Award 2022, which the European Patent Office announced this Tuesday. The prestigious award recognizes inventions based on advances in cutting-edge science, and the winners will be announced at a streaming ceremony on June 21.

an inspiring idea

Until almost three decades ago, García’s research had focused on the development of exoskeletons for workers in heavy industry. However, one day Daniela, a girl paralyzed after a traffic accident, gave him the idea to start researching this type of technology aimed at children.

The pediatric branch of this type of scientific and medical advances is still much less developed than that of adults. Numerous exoskeletons and other pilot technologies have been launched since the 1960s to help patients walk again , but prototypes for children have been far fewer. Young patients who are in wheelchairs are much more likely to develop muscle degradation at an early age and spinal deformities, something that negatively affects vital organs such as the lungs or the heart.

However, this exoskeleton is fully at the technological forefront of medical innovation , allowing children in wheelchairs to walk during rehabilitation sessions and reducing muscle breakdown and associated medical complications.

Adjustable mechanical joints

The exoskeleton nominated for the European Inventor Award 2022 consists of a titanium suit that fits the patient’s body. It is connected to a battery that feeds a network of small motors with sensors, which in turn are operated by complex software . All these components work as if they were mechanical joints that adjust to the bone structure and capture subtle movements while being able to absorb sudden shocks.

This design favors that the treatment for each child is personalized, and allows to evolve at the same pace as the patient through their rehabilitation. In addition, another advance is the speed with which the exoskeleton adjusts: less than eight minutes for children between three and 10 years old.

walk for the first time

Daniela was the first patient to try the exoskeleton prototypes, and after her many other children were able to feel what it was like to walk for the first time in their lives, something that also brought about improvements in their mental health, giving them greater emotional well-being, which which caused some to even improve their school performance.

When the success of the exoskeleton was clear, dozens of parents from all over the world contacted the Spanish scientist asking for her help, so she decided to found the company Marsi Bionics and start manufacturing prototypes. The first patent, in 2013, already included elastic actuators and joints with adjustable firmness that respond to subtle muscle movements.

Then came an improvement that allows the exoskeleton to adapt to different medical conditions and physical properties of the body. And the success of the invention has been ostensible, since it is currently in use in rehabilitation centers and hospitals throughout the EU, and it is expected that it will continue to expand borders.

REFERENCES:

European Patent Office, Sephard Fox. 2022 (Press release).

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