Assistive technology has revolutionized the way people with limited mobility interact with the world around them. From simple tools like canes and walkers to more complex devices like electric wheelchairs and prosthetics, assistive technology has opened up a world of possibilities for those with disabilities.
One of the most innovative and life-changing types of assistive technology is known as the exoskeleton. This wearable device, which is essentially a robotic suit, can help people with limited mobility regain their independence and improve their quality of life.
In this article, we will explore the benefits of exoskeletons and the impact they can have on the lives of those with limited mobility.
What is an exoskeleton?
An exoskeleton is a wearable device that provides external support to the body. It is typically made up of a frame that fits around the user’s torso, hips, and legs, and includes motors, sensors, and a power source.
Exoskeletons can be used for a variety of purposes, from assisting with heavy lifting to enabling those with limited mobility to walk or stand upright. In the context of limited mobility, exoskeletons are often used to help individuals with spinal cord injuries or other conditions that affect their ability to walk.
How do exoskeletons work?
Exoskeletons work by providing external support to the body and augmenting the user’s own movements. The device is controlled by sensors that detect the user’s movements and adjust the motors in real-time to provide the appropriate level of assistance.
For example, if the user wants to take a step forward, the sensors will detect this movement and activate the motors to help move the leg forward. The exoskeleton can also provide additional support and stability to the user’s torso, hips, and legs, which can help prevent falls and reduce the risk of injury.
Benefits of exoskeletons for limited mobility
Exoskeletons have the potential to improve the lives of individuals with limited mobility in numerous ways. Some of the key benefits of exoskeletons include:
1. Increased independence
One of the primary benefits of exoskeletons is that they can help individuals with limited mobility regain their independence. With an exoskeleton, users can walk and stand upright, which can enable them to perform daily activities more easily and with greater confidence.
2. Improved physical health
Exoskeletons can also have a positive impact on users’ physical health. By enabling them to stand and walk, exoskeletons can help improve circulation, strengthen muscles, and reduce the risk of secondary health complications such as pressure sores and respiratory problems.
3. Improved mental health
Limited mobility can be isolating and have a negative impact on users’ mental health. Exoskeletons can help mitigate these effects by enabling users to participate in social activities and engage with the world around them more easily.
4. Greater safety and reduced risk of injury
Exoskeletons can provide additional support and stability to users, which can help prevent falls and reduce the risk of injury. This can be particularly important for individuals with limited mobility who may be at higher risk of falls and other accidents.
5. Reduced reliance on caregivers
Finally, exoskeletons can help reduce users’ reliance on caregivers. With an exoskeleton, users can perform daily activities more independently, which can reduce the need for assistance from others.
Types of exoskeletons
As mentioned earlier, there are several types of exoskeletons available, each designed for a specific purpose. Here are some of the most common types of exoskeletons:
- Lower limb exoskeletons: These exoskeletons are designed to assist with walking and standing. They typically include motors and sensors that provide support to the user’s legs, hips, and torso. Some examples of lower limb exoskeletons include ReWalk, Ekso, and Indego.
- Full body exoskeletons: These exoskeletons provide support to the entire body, including the arms and torso. They are often used in industrial settings to assist with heavy lifting and other physically demanding tasks. Some examples of full body exoskeletons include HAL, X1, and MAX.
- Upper limb exoskeletons: These exoskeletons are designed to assist with arm and hand movements. They can be used to help individuals with limited mobility perform daily activities, such as eating and drinking, writing, and using a computer. Some examples of upper limb exoskeletons include MyoPro and NEUROExos.
- Passive exoskeletons: Unlike active exoskeletons, which use motors and sensors to provide support, passive exoskeletons use mechanical springs or other devices to reduce the load on the user’s joints. They are often used in rehabilitation settings to assist with range of motion and strengthen muscles. Some examples of passive exoskeletons include the Gait Enhancing and Motivating System (GEMS) and the Soft Exosuit.
- Hybrid exoskeletons: These exoskeletons combine elements of both active and passive exoskeletons. They are designed to provide the benefits of both types of exoskeletons, including increased support, reduced load on joints, and improved range of motion. Some examples of hybrid exoskeletons include the Wyss Institute’s Soft Exosuit and the H2 exoskeleton.
Overall, the type of exoskeleton that is best for a particular individual will depend on their specific needs and limitations. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine which type of exoskeleton is most appropriate for a particular individual’s needs.
In conclusion, exoskeletons are an innovative and life-changing form of assistive technology that can improve the quality of life for individuals with limited mobility. By providing external support to the body and augmenting the user’s own movements, exoskeletons can help users regain their independence, improve their physical and mental health, reduce the risk of injury, and reduce their reliance on caregivers.
There are several types of exoskeletons available, each designed for a specific purpose, with lower limb exoskeletons being the most common. While exoskeletons are still relatively new and expensive technology, their potential to improve the lives of individuals with limited mobility is significant, and they are likely to become more accessible and widely used in the future.