Exoskeleton Designed for Children

Exoskeletons are demonstrably awesome, allowing humans to accomplish feats of strength beyond their normal capacity. The future is bright for the technology — not just for industrial and military applications, but especially in therapy and rehabilitation. Normally, one thinks of adults who have lost function in their limbs, but in the case of this exoskeleton, developed by The Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), children with spinal muscular atrophy are given a chance to lead an active life.

Designing prosthetics for children can be difficult since they are constantly growing, and CSIC’s is designed to be telescopic to accommodate patients between the ages 3-14. Five motors in each leg adapt to the individual symptoms of the patient through sensors which detect the child’s intent to move and simulates what would be their natural walking gait.

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Wheelchair hack lets two-year-old explore on his own

[Shea’s] son [Alejandro] was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy which limits his ability to move. The ability to explore one’s environment as a toddler is really important to development so [Shea] and his wife have been looking into assistive technology. Their health insurance paid for a medical stroller when he was nine-months old and has told the family they need to wait five years for a powered wheelchair. Rather than wait, [Shea] took it upon himself to hack a wheelchair his son could control.

He found a used adult-sized motorized wheelchair on eBay for about $800. Not cheap, but way more affordable than a brand new unit. This type of chair is made to be controlled with a joystick, an option not available to his son at this point. Foot control was an option if he could figure out how to build an interface.

After unsuccessfully trying to repair a broken digital kitchen scale [Shea] was inspired to reuse the sensors as pedal inputs. [Alejandro] has limited foot strength and the sensitive strain gauges are perfect for picking it up. Above you can see the sandal-based interface he built. The two feet working together affect steering as well as forward and reverse. The pedal system is connected to the wheelchair using a Digital to Analog converter chip to stand-in for the original analog joystick. After the break we’ve embedded a video of [Alejandro] exploring the outdoors in the finished chair.

In this case it’s fortunate that [Shea] has the skills to build something like this for his son. We hope this will inspire you to donate your time an know-how to help those in your own community who are in a similar situation. This really takes the concept of The Controller Project to the next level.

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