Why do you build exoskeletons?
Besides the short term focus of building an exoskeleton to compete in the Cybathlon, the long term aim is designing and building an exoskeleton that is able to replace the wheelchair. The team is structured as a non-profit organisation working closely together with a rehabilitation clinic and companies related to the industry like Segula Technologies and Motek Forcelink. This synergy helps create innovation in exoskeleton technology.
What products do you offer and how do they help paraplegics?
Since the team is structured as a non-profit organisation, there is currently no product available on the market. The team’s focus is building an exoskeleton that is more versatile and will eventually replace to wheelchair. We do this by working closely together with our pilot, Claudia, who has a spinal cord injury and gives feedback on our design and ideas by testing the exoskeleton. Each year a new team starts and continues the work on the exoskeleton by implementing new ideas and rebuilding parts of the exoskeleton.
What technology goes into each exoskeleton? How do they work?
This year’s focus is on giving the user more control of the exoskeleton so they can be more of a pilot than a passenger. We have been designing the control and input to be more direct and closer to the pilot. The hip of the exoskeleton consists of two joints for each leg. This allows the exoskeleton to move both forwards and sideways. It also allows more precise control over the pilot’s centre of mass, which increases stability.
The ankle joints have two passive degrees of freedom enabling the user to place the feet on uneven terrain. The MARCH exoskeleton can walk up steep inclines this way as well.
How are you getting involved in the Cybathlon?
Initially the team was going to compete in the powered exoskeleton race but last Tuesday a training session was planned with our pilot Claudia to prepare for the upcoming Cybathlon. While most of the team was having dinner upstairs, two of the teammates were preparing MARCH for this training. Just before the end of the dinner we got a panicked phone call that the MARCH detached from its testing system and fell down on the ground. During the first observations, we found noticeable damage to the exoskeleton frame and the electronics could be seen. Upon closer inspection, it was decided that more repairs should be done to get the exoskeleton back to a usable state.
The damage, together with the list of adjustments that still had to be done in order to successfully participate in the Cybathlon, helped us make the decision to retract the Project MARCH team from the powered exoskeleton race. At this moment the team is giving its best effort to repair the MARCH exoskeleton so we can give a demonstration during the Cybathlon and show how far a student team can come in just one year of time. The new Project MARCH team is already working on ideas to rebuild and improve the MARCH exoskeleton, with a final goal to completely replace the wheelchair.
What’s the future for exoskeleton technology?
At this moment the exoskeleton user still needs crutches to be able to walk but in the future, we are foreseeing self-stabilising exoskeletons. This way the user can move around freely and use their hands at the same time. Exoskeletons will also be slimmer and the battery life will be increased to be usable all day. Someday the exoskeleton may be nothing more but a slim body suit of nano-technology able to help paraplegics stand up and walk again.
Project MARCH is a student team consisting of 26 students of the Delft University of Technology. In May 2015 the first students joined the team that was initiated by a group of alumni of the university This group had experience with large student projects participating in competitions (called Dreamteams at Delft UoT). When they heard of the Cybathlon, they decided to bring together a new dreamteam.
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