suitX, a Berkeley, California-based robotics company that designs and manufactures both medical and industrial exoskeletons, and its research partners at the University of California at Berkeley Robotics & Human Engineering Laboratory, are winners of the $1 million top prize in the international Robotics for Good competition for its Phoenix pediatric medical exoskeleton design. The Phoenix product is designed to help children with neurological disorders that impair or completely inhibit motor function and control, including cerebral palsy.
The competition pitted suitX’s entry against an original pool of 663 other entries from 121 countries, which the judges whittled down to a shortlist of 20 semi-finalists, and ultimately to three finalists. These finalists presented their entries to the judges in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), on Feb. 6. suitX presented its medical exoskeleton to the World Government Summit conference of 3000-plus world dignitaries, which ran Feb. 7–10 in Dubai.
suitX (also known as U.S. Bionics, Inc.), an industry and government-funded startup spun off from the UC Berkeley Lab in 2013, focuses on bringing advanced accessible exoskeletons to industrial, medical, and military markets. It says it will use the $1 million prize money to further its research efforts and advance current projects.
The UAE AI Robotics for Good award is intended to support innovation in the fields of artificial intelligence and robotics as part of the UAE’s commitment toward the National Innovation Strategy sponsored by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The competition provides a first-of-its-kind global platform for innovation, concentrating on practical applications of AI and robotics technology in areas of social relevance, such as health, education, and social services. “Humanity is on a journey. From the discovery of fire to the industrial revolution, we are on a constant voyage of discovery. Robotics and artificial intelligence are the next step,” Sheikh Rashid Al Maktoum says in a suitX release.
Image Credit: Erica Zeidenberg, suitX
Children affected by neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), spina bifida, and head trauma are often afflicted with disabilities that include impaired motor control. In many cases, walking becomes difficult and eventually means use of crutches or wheelchairs, resulting in these children not being able to acquire locomotion skills, with consequent loss of, or inability to gain, independence.
suitX notes that walking, a fundamental human characteristic, provides the best locomotion training, and that in children with neurological and neuromuscular diseases, independent walking can significantly contribute to rehabilitation that must be pursued within a relatively brief time due to plasticity of the human central nervous system. This physiological time clock means children with neurological conditions only have a small window of time for acquiring of locomotion skills through assisted walking.
The corporate objective of suitX is the development of a set of technologies to be used in designing and manufacturing a lightweight exoskeleton that can help quickly promote walking skills among children with neuromuscular disabilities, and other low-cost consumer bionic products to improve the quality of life for people worldwide. For example, the suitX team is innovating low-cost exoskeleton systems, such as one that allowed a paraplegic student to walk the podium for his graduation.
The company maintains that its research and development efforts will lead to computer-controlled rehabilitative exoskeletons to promote locomotion among children, and that suitX, teamed with scientists at the University of California at Berkeley, envisions a pediatric exoskeleton resulting from their research work incorporating the following characteristics:
• Modularity in hardware
• Control Software that promotes the recovery of the wearers gait
• Self-stabilizing technology to ensure safety.
The UAE AI Robotics for Good prize-winning pediatric exoskeleton builds on the suitX Phoenix platform, with several hardware and software modifications to enhance the acquisition of locomotion skills by children.
“We are honored to be the winner from among this extraordinary group of competitors. Our team is passionate about our desire to create low-cost consumer bionic products to improve the quality of life for people around the world,” said Dr. Homayoon Kazerooni, suitX founder and CEO, in a press release. “By aiming at neurologically disabled children we can make the difference between children spending their lives in a wheelchair or actually standing and walking. We are going to use this cash prize to create a versatile and accessible pediatric exoskeleton.”
At 27 pounds, Phoenix is one of the world’s lightest and most advanced commercial exoskeletons, combining a state-of-the-art embedded intelligence with a minimalist design to make the exoskeleton accessible and simple to manufacture.
Phoenix is powered by two motors at the hips and has electrically controlled tension settings that tighten when the wearer is standing but swing freely when walking. Users can control each leg’s movement and walk up to 1.1 miles per hour by pushing buttons integrated into a pair of crutches. The exoskeleton is powered for up to eight hours by a battery unit worn in a backpack.
Phoenix’s modular design enables customization to accommodate individual users with various conditions. The Phoenix for which the company is currently taking preorders is priced at $40,000, which suitX says is two to four times less expensive than competing products.
“We can’t really fix their disease,” says Dr. Kazerooni in a UC Berkeley release. “We can’t fix their injury. But what it would do is postpone the secondary injuries due to sitting. It gives a better quality of life.”
Phoenix Exoskeleton Major Features Include:
• A modular exoskeleton allowing the user to independently put on and remove each piece.
• A lightweight frame, weighing only 12.25 kg (27 lbs), affording greater agility.
• A speed of 1.1 miles/hour (0.5 m/sec) has been clocked by a Phoenix user. However, the maximum speed depends on the individual user.
• On a single charge, Phoenix can allow for 4 hours of continuous walking or 8 hours of intermittent walking.
• Phoenix is adjustable for different size users and can be easily configured to fit individual conditions.
• An intuitive interface makes it easy for users to control standing up, sitting down and walking.
• Phoenix can comfortably be worn while seated in a wheelchair.
For more information, visit www.suitX.com/phoenix#sthash.x4rRz7xs.dpuf
A YouTube Video explaining and demonstrating the prize-winning Phoenix exoskeleton can be viewed here.
UAE AI Robotics for Good Competition