Robot technology transforming lives
This article originally featured in the January 2019 issue of our Ahead of the Curve Magazine.
In 2019 technology – including robotics and AI – will continue to evolve and help people with life changing injuries, having a positive effect on both their physical and mental health.
Exoskeletons aren’t necessarily a new concept but are on the cusp of commercialisation. Advances in technology have resulted in a range of products that are designed for clinical and personal use and allow patients with neurological conditions the chance to stand and walk.
Exoskeletons fall within the Great British Technology area of Robotics and Autonomous Systems, an area which has been the focus of significant public sector funding. It’s a market which is rapidly growing. It’s advancement is at the forefront of people’s minds and is starting to receive frequent coverage in national press.
There are currently four types of exoskeletons available in the UK which have been approved for use:
- The Rex Bionics
- The Indego
- The Rewalk
- The Ekso Bionics
The aim of all four products is to enable the patient to stand and walk utilising advanced robotics. Aside from that, there are actually many differences between each exoskeleton which can make identifying a suitable device challenging particularly for non-clinicians such as legal professionals, or therapists that don’t have a history of working with exoskeletons.
There are about twenty eight articles on the studies of the exoskeleton. Clinicians have found that the exoskeletons are helping to reduce spasticity, pain, influencing bladder and bowel action, sleep pattern. However psychological well being is the most beneficial and important.
The Royal Bucks Hospital have developed a range of packages designed to independently assess patients‘ suitability for each exoskeleton device. Each assessment is bespoke to the patient and is carried out based on their personal and clinical aims.
Some of the differences with the exoskeletons include how and where the device can be used as well as recommendations for what support is required. So, for patients that have a goal of being more independent at home or being able to walk to the local shops, these criteria would straight away narrow down the available options.
Eva Sobonova, physiotherapist at the Royal Bucks comments:
“We had a patient who had sustained a thoracic fracture who had the goal of returning to work. During his assessment he was able to try all four exoskeletons to establish which one would be most appropriate to meet his needs. The selection was narrowed down, and he eventually chose the Indego device which is manufactured by Parker Hannifin. This particular device is the lightest, modular and therefore very easy to transport. It can be used both indoors and outdoors.
Following his decision on the Indego device and with funds available to purchase one, it was then incorporated into the client’s therapy programme to get him used to using the device, to build his tolerance and monitor his reaction to it. This was all supported by a specialist therapist. After the required hours of training at the clinic, he felt confident using the device at home with support from his wife.
With assistance of exoskeleton he is able to stand and walk. He was able to use his device while on a cruise holiday with his family”.
Although the exoskeletons do provide patients with a much greater level of independence, it isn’t recommended that patients use the device on their own. For safety reasons, the user still requires somebody (who has undergone training) to walk with them and help with the necessary balance and stability.
Eva goes on to add:
“We also believe that the expertise we provide is invaluable to legal professionals and case managers working with clients on legal claims. Combining the experience and insight into the technology that is available and matching that with individual patient need provides a positive result for all parties involved”.