ABLE: A robotic exoskeleton for people with spinal injury

You probably know or have met someone who has suffered from a spinal injury. Unfortunately, according to data from the World Health Organisation (WHO), every year worldwide around 250,000 to 500,000 people suffer a traumatic injury of this kind. Spinal injury has secondary complications, such as diabetes or osteoporosis. It entails high financial costs for patients and hampers social inclusion and entry into the labour market. People who have suffered a spinal injury can walk independently if they have a robotic exoskeleton to help them externally move the legs that have been paralysed by the trauma. However, most of the exoskeletons that are currently on the market are expensive, difficult to operate and are not adapted to the patient. This makes it difficult for patients to acquire them and the practice is only used in hospitals and large rehabilitation centres.

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ABLE Exoeskeleton

The Assistive Biorobotic Low-cost Exoskeleton (ABLE), which was designed and developed by the Biomechanical Engineering Laboratory (BIOMEC) of the UPC, attached to the Biomedical Engineering Research Centre (CREB), represents a paradigm shift in current technology. The device is cheaper, light and intuitive and adapted to the functional capacity of the patient. Its design is based on passive supports, which are manufactured in orthopedics and already owned by most patients. To these are added just the essential mechanisms and sensors to facilitate functional recovery of walking. Specifically, the device is comprised of three modular components: a knee actuator system that acts as artificial muscle, a sensor situated in the tibia region that detects the user’s intention, and a rucksack containing the electronics and the battery.

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Greater consideration of energy poverty in energy efficiency policies

In order to combat energy poverty in low-income households more efficiently, this target group should be taken into greater consideration in energy efficiency policies. In a project undertaken for the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) of the European Parliament, SQ Consult (the Netherlands), the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (Germany) and the CITCEA group of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC, Spain) have presented proposals on how to better integrate low-income households into current energy efficiency policies. The study “Energy efficiency for low-income households” describes the positive influence of improving energy efficiency in low-income households and in the economy in general.

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The high costs of energy represent a poverty risk for low-income households, either because they must spend too large a proportion of their income on energy supplies or simply because they can no longer afford to pay for energy. To combat what is known as energy poverty, without losing sight of the overall objectives of energy and climate policy, we need to find the right balance between energy efficiency measures and social policies.

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