Tag Archives: Health

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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“Light! More light!”

The last words that were supposedly spoken by one of the fathers of Romanticism, the German Goethe, could be used to describe one of the studies that I participated in as a researcher at the Biomedical Engineering Research Centre, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (CREB, CIT UPC).

Logically, lighting an operating theatre is no easy business. However, surgeons demand improvements not only in the instruments and techniques they use, but also in the spaces in which they work.

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Alicia Casals, CREB UPC

In response to this need, Doctor Enric Laporte, a notable surgeon with an outstanding career spanning over twenty years in various hospitals in Catalonia, approached CREB researchers to propose a challenge: would we be able to create a system that could improve the current lighting of surgeries?

The aim was to work on a new, more efficient system based on certain requirements set out by the surgeon. Various kinds of lights were needed that could be focused on different points at different times and adapted to needs on the operating table so that the area of interest could be illuminated with the required light intensity. In addition, the system needed to be easy to use…

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