Development of VariLeg, an exoskeleton with variable stiffness actuation: First results and user evaluation from the CYBATHLON 2016
Schrade, Stefan O.
- Journal Article
Rights / licenseCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
Background Powered exoskeletons are a promising approach to restore the ability to walk after spinal cord injury (SCI). However, current exoskeletons remain limited in their walking speed and ability to support tasks of daily living, such as stair climbing or overcoming ramps. Moreover, training progress for such advanced mobility tasks is rarely reported in literature. The work presented here aims to demonstrate the basic functionality of the VariLeg exoskeleton and its ability to enable people with motor complete SCI to perform mobility tasks of daily life. Methods VariLeg is a novel powered lower limb exoskeleton that enables adjustments to the compliance in the leg, with the objective of improving the robustness of walking on uneven terrain. This is achieved by an actuation system with variable mechanical stiffness in the knee joint, which was validated through test bench experiments. The feasibility and usability of the exoskeleton was tested with two paraplegic users with motor complete thoracic lesions at Th4 and Th12. The users trained three times a week, in 60 min sessions over four months with the aim of participating in the CYBATHLON 2016 competition, which served as a field test for the usability of the exoskeleton. The progress on basic walking skills and on advanced mobility tasks such as incline walking and stair climbing is reported. Within this first study, the exoskeleton was used with a constant knee stiffness. Results Test bench evaluation of the variable stiffness actuation system demonstrate that the stiffness could be rendered with an error lower than 30 Nm/rad. During training with the exoskeleton, both users acquired proficient skills in basic balancing, walking and slalom walking. In advanced mobility tasks, such as climbing ramps and stairs, only basic (needing support) to intermediate (able to perform task independently in 25% of the attempts) skill levels were achieved. After 4 months of training, one user competed at the CYBATHLON 2016 and was able to perform 3 (stand-sit-stand, slalom and tilted path) out of 6 obstacles of the track. No adverse events occurred during the training or the competition. Conclusion Demonstration of the applicability to restore ambulation for people with motor complete SCI was achieved. The CYBATHLON highlighted the importance of training and gaining experience in piloting an exoskeleton, which were just as important as the technical realization of the robot Show more
Journal / seriesJOURNAL OF NEUROENGINEERING AND REHABILITATION
Pages / Article No.
PublisherBioMed Central Ltd.
SubjectPowered exoskeleton; Spinal cord injury; Overground walking; Powered gait orthosis; Wearable robotics; Variable stiffness actuation; Variable impedance actuation; Exoskeleton training
Organisational unit03827 - Gassert, Roger
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