On Thursday 31 August, Project MARCH, a team of students from TU Delft, took the first steps with their new exoskeleton, the MARCH II. This is the first student team in the Netherlands to achieve this.
After a whole year spent designing, developing and building, the students finally revealed their assistive robotic system to the outside world. The students hope that this new advance in medical technology will enable paraplegics to resume their normal day-to-day activities. During the test day, Ruben de Sain (himself a paraplegic and team pilot), took the first official steps towards the Cybathlon Experience, a version of the Paralympic Games with bionic assistive devices. The students want to use the event in Düsseldorf in early October to show that it is possible for someone whose legs are paralysed to stand up from a deep sofa, walk across an uneven surface or climb stairs.
The exoskeleton designed and built by the students in Project MARCH shows that paraplegics can walk again. Using an exoskeleton has huge benefits for the user’s physical and mental well-being. “Being able to walk is good for general mental and physical fitness, and has a positive effect on the added complications of paraplegia, such as cystitis and bowel problems,” says Ilse van Nes, rehabilitation doctor at Sint Maartenskliniek hospital, where Ruben de Sain underwent a rehab programme that used a commercial exoskeleton. For users, an exoskeleton is much more than a technological device that ‘restores’ leg function. “The fact that after 10 years, you can stand up and talk to your family and friends at eye level is such an amazing feeling,” explains Ruben.
The motivation for the 31 TU Delft students who spent a year working on this project on a voluntary basis was simply the idea that they might be able to restore full mobility to someone who had lost the use of their legs. They started their design for a totally new user-friendly exoskeleton a year ago. The design has been realised and they now have a real exoskeleton to use for training purposes. After initial successful training sessions, the student team has now managed to walk using their exoskeleton. “We are delighted that it works, and I'm so proud of the team and Ruben for everything we've accomplished so far. Now that the first steps have become a reality, we can officially start the intensive training programme for the Cybathlon Experience,” says Dingemanse, team manager of Project MARCH. The team has until early October.
The Cybathlon Experience is a competition for bionic para-athletes, in which they use exoskeletons supplied by commercial and academic teams to complete the four elements of the event in the fastest time. The elements are designed to represent everyday situations. The first Cybathlon was held in Zurich in September 2016. This year's contest is part of the Rehacare event, an international trade fair revolving around rehabilitation, which takes place in Düsseldorf from 4 to 7 October. “Alongside the competitive element, this competition is also an important opportunity for the teams to test the suitability of their exoskeletons in day-to-day situations and swap knowledge and experiences. We hope that together, we can give an extra boost to the developments in this branch of medical technology,” concludes Dingemanse.
Project MARCH website
Project MARCH design presentation
Photo: TU Delft/Project MARCH