French company builds an 'exoskeleton' allowing wheelchair users to walk freely
The miracles of modern tech are endless.
A French tech company is rolling out a new device that allows wheelchair-bound people to walk again. It looks like something straight out of a science fiction movie, but the phenomenal benefit it provides is very, very real.
The company, Wandercraft, calls it the Atalante X. It acts like an exoskeleton, fitting around both legs and the back of the spine. Twelve motors make up the robot appendages (six at the hips, two at the knees, and four at the ankles), which helps make more natural movement.
Each motor receives a signal every millisecond from both a user-controlled remote and a sensor that detects upper body movement. This cutting-edge technology allows, for the first time ever, the freedom of hands-free motion.
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Alexandre Boulanger, one of Wandercraft’s creators, regarded exoskeletons as “the revolution of the future for people with reduced mobility. They help users to regain a social life through as simple an act as being able to stand up and talk with others face-to-face.”
So far, users seem to agree.
In an interview with Euro News, one of Wandercraft's test pilots, Kevin Piette, noted, “the first time you stand up is pretty impressive because you can do it very easily, very quietly, comfortably. And then you have this upright posture that you had actually forgotten about.”
One of Piette’s favorite rediscovered activities is cooking. “To be able to cook and reach things up high, things that are part of a really banal day of life was rewarding. It’s also really nice to be able to be at the same level as people instead of always looking up at them from below,” he told Euro News.
Wandercraft first launched in 2012, starting out with only three engineers. The company now has 50 mathematicians, robotics engineers and biomechanical experts. And so far $45 million has been raised to further develop a lighter, cheaper, more versatile model.
One of those co-founders, Jean-Louis Constanza, whose son is a wheelchair user, credits their success to having “a project that really changes society.”
According to the Wheelchair Foundation, an estimated 10 million people require wheelchairs. And that’s not taking developing countries into consideration, where less than 10% of those who need them actually have access to one. According to the website, that means that every hour of every day, there is need for 145 more wheelchairs in the world. There is certainly a demand for mobility devices.
Lots of breakthroughs have been made to make everyday life a bit more accessible for those who are disabled, like wheelchair-equipped smart cars. But the Atalante X is something truly innovative and one-of-a-kind. Its next steps (pun intended) are being able to be used outside. Wandercraft engineer Jean-Louis Kana noted that the device will have to adhere to the same regulations as an autonomous car, and be required to develop algorithms to ensure stability and reliability. Particularly if there’s an accident.
However, if the success of Wandercraft continues, the lives of millions will become truly limitless. It’s one small step for robotics, and one giant leap for inclusion.