From left to right, graduate students Soheil Sadeqi and Shaun Bougeois, and mechatronic systems engineering professor Siamak Arzanpour (not pictured: professor Ed Park). The team unveiled their Wearable Lower Limb Anthropomorphic Exoskeleton (WLLAE) at the 2016 B.C. Tech Summit.

Robotic leg could help wheelchair users walk again

January 26, 2016

A research team led by mechatronic systems engineering professors Siamak Arzanpour and Edward Park is developing a robotic leg that could help wheelchair users walk again.

The lower-body exoskeleton is a wearable suit strapped around the leg that powers limbs unable to move independently.

The SFU team spent three years developing the prototype, which was unveiled at the B.C. Tech Summit, Jan. 18 and 19.

The system is able to mimic natural human hip motions—a breakthrough for robotic exoskeleton devices, says professor Arzanpour.

“Most systems currently on the market only allow users to only walk in straight line,” he says. “With our system, the user can walk up and down stairs, sit naturally, and change direction, allowing wearers to move in a more natural way.”

The primary point of difference is an innovative 3D actuator motor, built from scratch by the team using parts created from a 3D printer. As a result, the system supports a full range of hip motions, both side-to-side to turn the leg inwards and outwards, and up-and-down to raise the knee.

Arzanpour hopes that one day, this technology could help some of the 18 million people in the United States and Canada suffering from reduced mobility regain, and maintain, independence.

“Walking improves muscle and bone health for disabled people, and helps restore independence—our design can also be used for rehabilitation, helping patients to recover faster,” he says adding that the system could also be used for rescue missions where people have to carry heavy loads for long distances. 

The team’s next step is to create a smaller, lighter prototype. Ultimately, the plan is to develop additional features, including a brain-computer interface that would allow users to control the exoskeleton using only their thoughts.

VIDEO: researchers developed a novel system to mimic human-like hip movement using sophisticated 3D actuators