iTAD is continuing EAWa for its second year. EAWa is an exoskeleton assistive walking device that will use muscle sensors (Electromyography or EMG) to assist with walking. The project is targeting patients who need physical rehabilitation and are unable to support their complete body weight. This year the iTAD team is comprised of 16 students studying mechanical, biomedical and mechanical, and biomedical and electrical engineering. The team is aiming to complete the first version of the design and system to begin practical testing by the end of the 2023-2024 school year. The goal is to have a working exoskeleton for the projects third year for practical testing in a clinical setting and to collaborate with hospitals to run experiments with target populations.
The iTAD team has its goal set on reshaping the physical therapy industry with modern robotics. There is a need for a simple assistive device that could be easily used in a hospital setting for gait rehabilitation after major trauma. The first step to recovery after any major injury is getting out of bed to begin the rehabilitation, however, this can be an exceedingly difficult feat in severe cases where large tumors were removed, or when bone reconstruction is needed. An assistive walking device enables patients to get out of bed and begin the recovery process with a fraction of the strength they would need otherwise. Current designs to solve this problem involve a large treadmill with overhanging supports that are very costly for resources, time, and money. iTAD proposes a solution with its walking exoskeleton that is more cost-efficient and can be used anywhere and transported to a patient’s bedside. EAWa will be designed to be lightweight, easy to control, collect data on the gait of its wearer, and can be used alongside other assistive walking systems. The accessibility to high-end physical rehabilitation that EAWa will achieve will be revolutionary to the medical field and drastically improve recovery time to get people out of the hospital and back to their livelihoods. This year, students are eager to design innovative technology and make positive changes in the medical field.
With the main mechanical design of EAWa completed in its first year, the primary focus of this year is to make progress on the electrical systems that are needed to control EAWa. The goal of EAWa is to incorporate EMG signal-based control which uses sensors to detect muscle contraction that will provide signals to control each of the joints with motors. More research needs to be done to create a feasible EMG-based exoskeleton so some of the funds this year will be used to create a single degree of freedom EMG-based exoskeleton that controls the elbow joint for EMG testing. Other funds will go to the main robot which is currently being designed to work with intelligent force-controlled algorithms until further testing of our EMG is complete. Microcontrollers, motors, motor drivers, sensors, wires, electrical connectors, circuit boards, and batteries will be purchased to control the exoskeleton. Some of the funds will facilitate the mechanical team to improve the design of EAWa to make it more user-friendly, comfortable, and lightweight. The mechanical team also requires funds to acquire components and for machining expenses.
Supporting this project means aiding in the development of amazing technology as well as giving excellent experience to an outstanding group of engineers. With the proper funds, students will be able to access the materials needed to create a successful exoskeleton that will fill a gap in recovery currently inaccessible to the general population. Along with accelerating the development of the project, it is providing a young group of engineers with the proper experience needed to gain practical engineering experience that they will be able to apply as they move into the professional industry or continue their education in upcoming years. The overall project plan is to collaborate with the hospital in the third year, therefore, proper funding will accelerate this project and make that goal more achievable.