This page features exoskeletons & robotics as applicable for those with neurological conditions. We do not address exoskeletons and robotics use for other applications such as industrial or military use. This is an area dedicated to the use of these devices either as a neuroprosthetics or neural rehabilitation use.
Exoskeletons and robotics for medical use are nothing new. In the 1960s, General Electric developed the first exoskeleton for military use called the Hardiman which later proved to be impractical for it’s given purpose. Fast forward to 2001, DARPA began phase I of the Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation Program and in 2015 began testing mechanical exoskeletons for energy conservation and performance on soldiers at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. These external wearable brace support systems with computer-based integration and motion sensors have been used for industrial and military purposes but are also gaining momentum as components become smaller and more efficient.
These devices can be categorized in two different ways, as a neuroprosthetic or for neural rehabilitation. Exoskeletons as a neuroprosthetic focuses on how the device restores lost function for an individual with a neurological condition. Here, the device provides a function and if the user discards or takes the device off then that function is lost. The other category is the use as a neural rehabilitation tool. In this case, the device is used to re-train or rehabilitate for the user to gain volitional movement or function. Over time as a therapeutic, the robotic device is then no longer needed. There is no doubt the rehabilitative systems increase mobility, improve function, and reduce the risk of secondary injury. Demonstrative effectiveness of exoskeletons and robotics as a rehabilitation tool must be compared to other rehabilitative techniques. There are on-going research in top rehabilitation facilities at the VA and around the world to address this question.
There are a variety of applications which are listed below by category. Prior to considering any new therapy, treatment or device, a proper evaluation should be conducted with a knowledgeable medical professional.
There are health, medical and financial risks. Out of pocket costs and available insurance coverage for any treatment must be considered prior to starting a protocol. Also, it is key to understand that results and applications will vary per individual. If you find something of interest, please contact the vendor directly to find a trained professional in your area.
- Exoskeleton Report: an entirely volunteer-based organization focused exclusively on exoskeletons, exosuits, and wearable devices that exert a force on the user.
- Wearable Robotics Association: WearRA provides a forum for the wearable robotics community to share ideas and collaborate in a way that expands and improves the ecosystem of technologies and participants.