Italian firm hopes device will grant wheelchair users autonomy

A technology firm in Italy is working on a powered exoskeleton which it hopes will be help wheelchair users complete everyday tasks independently.

But Rehab Technologies admitted that the device cannot yet substitute the wheelchair for people with spinal injuries, according to a report by Reuters.

Technical director, Matteo Laffranchi, was quoted by the news outlet saying: “Our idea is not to replace the wheelchair because paraplegics can do everything with the wheelchair.

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“But our idea is to introduce a new concept which can make possible a combined use of an exoskeleton with the wheelchair.”

The exoskeleton has two electric motors on each leg, one at the knee and one at the hip. The battery, attached to the wearer’s lower back, lasts about three hours on a single charge.

The makers call it ‘plug-and-play’, with the modular design easily clipped apart for ease of transportation. Crucially, a user can put it on by themselves.

Laffranchi said: “We have interviewed some patients that have used some other types of exoskeletons and… in the end for them it was really uncomfortable to ask people to help them in sitting down and taking them around.

“So they want to be fully autonomous. By having a fully modular system it’s much easier to transport and to take it around, so in the end we try to tackle this issue.”

Initial tests have been encouraging. A number of clinical trials are planned this year to further optimise its design before commercialisation.

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