- Tréxō Robotics has created and exoskeleton that can help immobile kids walk
- It attached to walkers and is battery-powered to help them propel themselves
- It can help kids with Cerebral Palsy, Paraplegia, stroke, spine and brain injuries
A Canadian startup has developed a device that allows children with disabilities to walk.
A new exoskeleton from Tréxō Robotics consists of robotic legs that can attach to any walker and give kids with Cerebral Palsy, spinal cord injuries, and other immobilizing conditions the chance to escape the bounds of a wheel chair and move on their own.
While similar devices exist for adults, creating an exoskeleton for children came with unique challenges, and this is the first time it’s been done.
‘We are the first ever commercial exoskeleton for children with disabilities in the world,’ cofounder and CEO Manmeet Maggu told DailyMail.com.
‘Today, in order to walk, a child relies on a walker or gait-trainer (a walker for people with even less mobility), which allows a child to take a few steps everyday for exercise, but it is not a mobility solution.’
‘Our robotic legs attach onto the walker, ensuring support along with powered walking, so that a child can take the device outdoors and walk longer periods.’
The two Tréxō legs easily attach to any walker, transforming it from a passive support system to a fully-powered exoskeleton device.
Attached to the walker and strapped onto the child’s own legs, the robo legs assist the child’s knees and hip joints by using battery power to help the child propel themselves forward.
It can be used for a full day on a single charge.
Tréxō can be used indoors and outdoors on any surface you would use a wheelchair, but it isn’t currently suited for navigating stairs.
There’s a software approach as well – it comes with a tablet that allows a physiotherapist or parent to track progress and adjust the parameters (such as the assistive force on each joint) as the child gains strength.
All together, Maggu and his cofounder Rahul Udasi – both robotics engineers – had to develop hardware, software, firmware, and electrical systems to make Tréxō a reality.
While similar exoskeleton technology exists for adults, designing a system for children came with a new set of challenges.
‘One of the challenges was building a system that is compact enough to work with small children, at the same time providing the right amount of forces when needed to support the child,’ Maggu said.
Children with disabilities often have really weak bone structure, which makes it difficult for them to take their own body weight for more than a few minutes.
With these differences, it wasn’t as easy as simply shrinking down the current devices.
‘Most exoskeletons are heavy machines that put their weight on the back of the user, which meant that we had to design from the ground up,’ Maggu said.
‘Our device allows a child to reduce the effect of gravity on their legs, by suspending them in the device.’
He said this is akin to moon-walking, adding that the system can be adjusted so the child is fully suspended (walking in the air) or fully weight-bearing (taking all of his/her weight on their legs).
‘Our vision is that this device can provide not only therapeutic benefits, which have been documented via other robotic platforms, but also provide mobility, allowing a child to walk around rather than using a wheelchair,’ Maggu.
Being constrained to a wheelchair can lead to even more health complications, including blood clots, muscle degradation, and kidney failure.
Maggu came up with the idea for Tréxō while studying Mechatronics engineering at the University of Waterloo in Canada after discovering his newphew Praneit has Cerebral Palsy and may never be able to walk.
After researching and learning about the devastating affects of a lifetime in a wheelchair, his family was looking for a device to help him walk.
‘We quickly realized that there is no such device out there for him or any other children in fact,’ he said.
‘That led us down the path of building something for my nephew.’
While gearing up to finish graduate school at the University of Toronto in 2015 (where Maggu got his MBA and Rahul got his Masters in Robotics), the duo realized they could make their side hustle a full time business.
They joined the Hatchery LaunchLab at the university and found capital for their startup when they took home the $20,000 Lacavera Prize at the program’s annual Demo Day competition.
The company later took home another award for $50,000 from The Ontario Brain Institute.
In summer of 2016, they conducted an emotional first test of Tréxō at Maggu’s brother’s house in Delhi, India.
‘Over the years, we went through multiple prototypes until we finally tried one with my nephew and watched him take his first steps using our device,’ Maggu said.
‘It was a proof of concept showing that it can work, and we haven’t looked back since then.’
In the US and Canada alone, 510,000 kids live with Cerebral Palsy, 564,000 have traumatic brain injuries, and 5.3 million have some form of paralysis.
Now the team is preparing to launch Tréxō in October in as part of a partnership with Able Bionics, a Toronto-based distributor providing exoskeletons direct to physiotherapy clinics.
The first version will be for clinics and hospitals and allow them to use the exoskeleton as a device for physiotherapy treatment.
‘This helps us collect more data and fine-tune our next product, which will be intended for the families to use in their homes,’ Maggu said.
The launch coincides with the company’s completion of the Techstars program, a tech accelerator that helps early-stage startups boost their business with mentoring and funding.
Other Techstars graduates who went through the program in NYC include ClassPass, Plated, and Bluecore.
‘The program has helped us build a better business model for the long-term growth and sustainability of the business,’ Maggu said, calling the accelerator ‘a surreal experience.’
‘The mentor adviser network we build at Techstars will help us not just today, but for many years to come.’
While the company is focusing on kids right now, it does hope to expand and develop and advanced exoskeleton for adults as well.
‘We want to build devices that can serve children from a young age through to adulthood, a lifestyle companion,’ Maggu said.
‘Our vision is to replace the wheelchair for everyone eventually.’
Originally published by Daily Mail.
Author: Sage Lazzaro
Date of publication: September 6, 2017