Many of us could not begin to fathom the feeling of being told we may never walk again, but for one motorcycle enthusiast this was his reality. Here, Graham Mackrell, managing director of precision gearing specialist Harmonic Drive UK, explains how the company has worked with Project March to help people get back on their feet.
Simple daily activities such as standing and climbing the stairs can prove challenging, if not impossible, for anyone who may have a paralysed lower body and is bound to a wheelchair. For spinal cord injuries, scientists have created the exoskeleton, which is motorised robotic armour that can be used to help people regain mobility.
In 2005, Ruben de Sain was told he would never walk again following a serious motorbike incident. As part of a rehabilitation programme, Ruben used an exoskeleton and was able to raise enough money from a crowdfunding campaign to buy his own suit and better support himself physically.
The research and technology for exoskeletons is currently underdeveloped. This led Ruben to connect with a team of students at Delft University of Technology, called Project March, who are working to address the challenges and construct armour that can be comfortably worn and even win competitive competitions like the Cybathlon.
Project March aims to change the lives of wheelchair users like Ruben, but the students behind the project cannot do this alone. Having heard Ruben’s story and the vision of Project March, the team at Harmonic Drive partnered with the two to boost the technology in the armour.
To offer the wearer as much comfort as possible, the suit needs to be light but still offer stability. Based on these requirements, it was agreed that Harmonic Drive would integrate its CSD Series into the exoskeleton. Primarily designed for the robotic and semiconductor market, the CSD Series offers short axial length and low weight, basic design requirements for the exoskeleton.
With the ability to perform equally as well in demanding, high precision applications, the simple installation means that users can take advantage of the low weight and compact size to easily absorb high loads.
Since the collaboration, Project March has competed in the Cybathlon and passed vital practical tests. While there are still further improvements to be made to the armour, the latest exoskeleton created by the students demonstrates a leap forward in the technology that will get more people mobile in the future, one step at a time.