Project MARCH: exoskeletons help the immobile get back on their feet

07 August 2018

This piece from precision gearing specialist Harmonic Drive UK explains how the company has worked with Project MARCH to help people walk again – by building on MARCH's existing exoskeletal armour technology.

Simple daily activities such as standing and climbing the stairs can prove challenging, if not impossible, for anyone who may be wheelchair-bound and have a paralysed lower body. For spinal cord injuries, scientists have created the exoskeleton, which is motorised robotic armour that can be used to help people regain mobility.

In 2005, motorcycle enthusiast Ruben de Sain was told he would never walk again following a serious motorbike incident. As part of a rehabilitation programme, Ruben piloted an exoskeleton, and ultimately was able to raise enough crowdfunding money to buy his own suit – and better support himself physically.

Knowing that the research and technology for exoskeletons is currently underdeveloped, Ruben connected with a team of students at Delft University of Technology, called Project MARCH: a campaign to address the challenges of immobility and construct armour that can be comfortably worn – and even win competitive competitions like the Cybathlon.

Project MARCH aims to change the lives of wheelchair users like Ruben, but the students behind the project needed further assistance: having heard Ruben’s story and the vision of Project MARCH, the team at Harmonic Drive AG partnered with the two parties – with the aim to boost the technology in the armour.

To offer the wearer as much comfort as possible, the suit needs to be light but still offer stability. Based on these requirements, it was agreed that Harmonic Drive would integrate its CSD Series into the exoskeleton. Primarily designed for the robotic and semiconductor market, the CSD Series offers short axial length and low weight, basic design requirements for the exoskeleton.

With the ability to perform equally as well in demanding, high precision applications, the simple installation means that users can take advantage of the low weight and compact size to easily absorb high loads.

Since the collaboration, Project MARCH has competed in the Cybathlon and passed vital practical tests. While there are still further improvements to be made to the armour, the latest exoskeleton created by the Project MARCH students demonstrates a leap forward in the technology that will render more people mobile in the future – one step at a time.

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