High School Students Build Exoskeleton for Kids with Cerebral Palsy
Robotics club uses summer break to assemble a 3D-printed protective device to help kids with the disability learn to walk
For most teens, summer break is hardly synonymous with productivity. However, members of the Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS) robotics club in Los Angeles, CA used theirs to construct a low-cost exoskeleton to help children with cerebral palsy learn to walk. This project was brought together by Not Impossible Labs, the same group that created the Brainwriter which helped a paralyzed artist continue to create with EEG as well as Project Daniel, which gave robotic arms to amputees in war-torn Sudan through 3D printing.
Cerebral palsy is a condition that manifests shortly after birth and affects a person’s ability to control movement, balance, and posture. Though there is no cure, physical therapy can greatly increase quality of life for those afflicted. Current therapy devices can cut the rehabilitation time for children learning to walk from five years to one year. However, these models tend to be expensive ranging $300,000 to $500,000. The team of high school students, led by Joel Simonoff, is working on a version that is just a fraction of the cost.
After an initial build with the GHCHS robotics club and engineers from Not Impossible Labs, the students received expert feedback from Dylan Edwards, PhD, PT and David Putrino, PhD, PT from Burke Rehabilitation Center. The current prototype consists of a 3D printed exoskeleton, four motors, a treadmill and harness. The machine’s adjustable gait is controlled with an iPad via bluetooth.
The project is still in its early stages and has already had some major successes. The motors are able to run simulated walking patterns. Simonoff was excited to report that even at full speed, the motors stop on a dime. However, there are still some problems the teens are trying to work through. They recently reached out the programming community for advice on how to get the motors at the hips and knees to move in synchrony.
Although they been fortunate to have the limited resources Not Impossible Labs can provide, in the end, this is a project about kids helping kids. As Simonoff and his team continue this project, they look forward to the day they will be able provide a cheaper therapy option for cerebral palsy so families can see their children walk and live more normal lives. One can only wonder what Simonoff and his friends have in store next summer.