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Cool Advances in Mobility via Prosthetics & Exoskeletons

The world of prosthetics and mobility devices is changing rapidly and advances in technology are helping those with paralysis or missing limbs adapt more easily.

Many adults disparage today’s teenagers, claiming they are self-centered and lazy. They certainly aren’t referring to Easton LaChapelle who, at 16, designed and built an incredibly affordable robotic arm. It began in the summer of 2010, when, as a bored teenager, he decided to build a robotic hand. With no previous knowledge of engineering, robotics or electronics, he scoured the internet for instructional videos and produced a hand made out of lego blocks, wires and servos.

Photo by Mike Basher

The following spring he entered a science fair and met a young girl with a prosthetic arm. Upon learning that the arm had cost her parents over $80,000, LaChapelle was inspired to improve on his invention and make a prosthetic arm at a low cost. He figured if he could put together a hand for a few hundred dollars, he could use 3D modeling and printing to help design an entire arm for much less than eighty grand.

Today is he working with NASA’s robotics program on the next generation of his Arduino Robotic Arm, which costs under $500 and is powered using a glove connected to a headset that uses brainwaves to control the arm. With NASA’s help, he is moving closer to his goal to provide low-cost, quality prosthetic robotic arms to those who need them.  You can read more about Easton in this article by Popular Science.

Parker-Indego Exoskeletons similar to the one featured in the movie Elysium will soon be commonplace. Tribute vendor partner, Parker Hannifin, has introduced exciting technology to help people with paraplegia gain a new level of independence.

Working with a team of engineers at Vanderbilt University, Parker is developing a new powered exoskeleton called Indego®, which allows users to stand and walk on all surfaces including stairs and gain access to areas not accessible via a wheelchair.

Indego® is being evaluated at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, one of the leading hospitals for spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation in the United States. The Parker device has some advantages over other models in development: it is lighter, smaller, and has a modular design so it can fit into a wheelchair and be taken apart for easy transport.

Also, the amount of robotic assistance adjusts automatically for users who have some muscle control in their legs and it is the only wearable exoskeleton that incorporates functional electrical stimulation, a proven rehabilitation technology.

Parker is targeting commercial launch in 2015. “We are confident that we can improve the lives of people who experience mobility challenges. We believe the technology developed at Vanderbilt is far superior in terms of both design and functional performance," says Craig Maxwell, Vice President and Chief Technology and Innovation Officer for Parker. Photo by Joe Howell/Vanderbilt

For more information on the Indego® click here or for a video click here.

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