When we think of mobility-enhancing exoskeletons, we tend to picture them being worn by adults. Engineers at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), however, have developed one that's designed specifically for kids. Not only does it help disabled children to walk, but it may also even save their lives.
The 12-kg (26-lb) aluminum/titanium exoskeleton is intended for use by children aged 3 to 14, who are suffering from spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).
A relatively rare neuromuscular disorder, SMA involves the loss of motor neurons and progressive muscle wasting, in some instances leaving the victim unable to walk. In the case of children, they instead end up spending most of their time lying prostrate. This posture and inactivity can in turn lead to complications such as scoliosis, osteoporosis and associated lung disfunction, the latter of which may ultimately result in death.
That's where the exoskeleton comes in.
It's designed to help the child move through a regular upright walking motion, which keeps their muscles trained and active, thus preventing the onset of conditions such as osteoporosis. An onboard microprocessor detects the wearer's leg muscle movements, then activates five motors in each of its own legs to help boost those motions accordingly. One charge of its battery should be good for five hours of therapeutic use.
The exoskeleton is currently undergoing clinical trials.