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Nov 02, 2015 10:14 AM EST

Exoskeletons research could allow paralyzed to be more flexible

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Researchers at the Swiss Federal institute of Technology are working towards the development of more flexible, less constraining, powered exoskeletons that improve the lives of disabled and paralyzed people, Reuters reports.

The use of metal exoskeletons is becoming common among survivors of strokes, spinal cord injuries, and other lower extremity weaknesses.

Metal exoskeletons are suits worn outside the body that provide energy for limb movement.

However, these suits have their limitations. They constrain the patient's walking and are also bulky, making several activities such as climbing stairs impossible. The limitations of the mechanism makes any other activity, other than walking in a straight line, difficult, slow and inefficient.

ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal institute of Technology) researcher Volker Bartenbach told Reuters that a prototype developed at the institute's Sensory Motor Laboratory allows users far more freedom.

"Hopefully we will build systems that allow you to do more tasks," he said.

"Besides walking in a straight line, you might be able to walk sideways in front of your kitchen counter or something like that, to walk stairs up and down. Also to turn round on the spot, so they need different joints, they need different degrees of freedom and if we had a system that was powerful enough to support you but also less constraining to allow you those movements you would be able to do such movements, even if you were a paraplegic or handicapped person."

Bartenbach and professor of sensory motor systems, Robert Riener are making an attempt to improve the type of exoskeleton currently being manufactured by replicating the natural kinematics of human lower limbs.

Bartenbach wants to build an exoskeleton that is an alternative to a wheelchair for a spinal paralysis patient.

The lab is also working on developing a soft exosuit that can be worn like regular clothes and yet provide sufficient assistance to support the wearer during specific motions.

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