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Researchers Take a Softer Approach to Wearable Robots

Clothing-like exosuits represent a new class of wearable robots for people with mobility challenges, including stroke survivors.

Kristopher Sturgis

ReWalk Robotics, a manufacturer of exoskeleton technologies, debuted the latest prototype for a soft suit exoskeleton device that aims to assist stroke survivors in the process of regaining mobility. The new device has been designed and developed alongside collaborators from Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

A prototype of the Restore exosuit.

The latest prototype, known as Restore, was designed to transmit power to key joints in the legs through cable technologies. The actual cables connect to fabric-based designs that attach to the legs and feet of a patient, making it more of a soft suit technology. ReWalk decided to partner with the Wyss Institute to enhance the engineering behind the device as it makes its way through clinical trials on the way toward receiving regulatory approvals.

"We are thrilled with the progress of the Restore system, which will provide life-changing technology to a whole new class of patients facing mobility issues," said ReWalk CEO Larry Jasinski in a press release. "With the prototype finished, we are eager to begin clinical studies and pursue regulatory approvals so that these systems can be provided to millions of patients who can benefit from access to the device."

ReWalk was the first device maker to receive FDA clearance for a wearable motorized device that can aid paraplegics back in the summer of 2014. The ReWalk Personal System first hit the market in Europe back in 2012, and was designed for patients who suffered from paralyzation due to spinal cord injuries -- specifically those ranging from the seventh thoracic vertebra to the fifth lumbar vertebra. Later that same year, a British woman named Claire Lomas made history when she used the ReWalk device to complete the London Marathon.

Needless to say, this is not unventured territory for the company, as they seek to establish themselves as the industry leader in therapeutic exoskeleton technologies. This latest design is the first to explore the idea of soft clothing like exosuits that do not contain any rigid elements. The suit itself is composed primarily of specially designed fabrics, which help keep the suit light while providing minimal restrictions to body movement and motion.

The company says they'll continue to work with the Wyss Institute as they look to accelerate the development of the lightweight, wearable exosuit, so they can get the device into a clinical setting to begin assisting patients with lower limb disabilities. The company even says that they have plans to begin work on the development of soft prototypes that can improve the mobility of upper extremities as well -- an effort that could produce a whole new line of soft exoskeleton suits for a variety of patients.

For now, the next step is clinical studies, where the company hopes to begin testing the suit on stroke survivors, as well as patients with multiple sclerosis and other movement impairments. The company anticipates that the suit will be cleared for commercial delivery by next year.

Kristopher Sturgis is a contributor to Qmed.

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