3D-printed exoskeleton helps paralysed users walk again
News: American 3D printing firm 3D Systems has created a robotic suit that combines printed parts with motorised components to help paralysed patients stand and walk.
3D Systems claimed that its Ekso-Suit, which fits onto the user's legs and back to support the natural walking motion, is the "first ever 3D printed hybrid Exoskeleton robotic suit".
Boxtel's thighs, shins and spine were 3D-scanned to create a three-dimensional digital model on which the shapes of the flexible printed parts of the exoskeleton are based.
This process enabled the designers to create a support structure that is a perfect fit for Boxtel's body and provides a framework for the mechanical actuators and controls that power the suit, which were developed by California-based exoskeleton specialist, Ekso Bionics.
Shifts in the user's weight activate sensors connected to battery-powered motors that drive the legs, resulting in a natural and weight-bearing gait despite the lack of muscular function.
Boxtel tested the suit by walking around the Hungarian capital, Budapest, at an event hosted by Californian higher education institution Singularity University.
"After years of dreaming about it, I am deeply grateful and thrilled to be making history by walking tall in the first ever 3D printed Ekso-Suit, made specifically for me," said Boxtel.
"This project represents the triumph of human creativity and technology that converged to restore my authentic functionality in a stunningly beautiful, fashionable and organic design," she added.
3D Systems president and CEO Avi Reichental said: "I believe that the most beautiful and functional designs have already been patented by nature, and inspired by Amanda's incredible spirit, we were able to harness nature's beauty with 3D printed functionality and freedom of creation to allow her body and spirit to soar."
The South Carolina firm is engaged in other projects that use 3D scanning and printing technologies to create customised devices for medical applications including preoperative surgery, surgical drill and saw guides, dentistry and orthodontics.
"3D Systems has long been a pioneer in patient-specific devices, integrating our cutting-edge 3D capabilities with robotics to better serve humanity opens new and unimaginable frontiers," added Reichental.
The robotic components of the suit are based on technologies that Ekso Bionics has been developing since 2005. The company's products help to augment the user's strength and its HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier) suit has been tested by the American military as a way of enhancing the capabilities of soldiers in the field.