The battery-operated hip exoskeleton allows the disabled above the knee to walk with less effort.
The device gives the user enough extra power to walk, just like an electric bike with a motor that assists the rider to pedal the bike uphill.
It wraps around the wearer’s waist and leg, uses a battery-powered electric motor and embedded computer chips to enable an amputee to walk with very little effort.
Since prosthetic legs for amputees cannot fully replicate the biomechanical functions of the human foot, above-the-knee amputees work harder when walking.
They overexert their residual-limb and intact-limb muscles to compensate for the lack of energy from the prosthesis.
While autonomously operated hip exoskeletons have been shown to reduce the energy demands associated with walking in young people who have not undergone amputation, their use by people with above-the-knee amputations had not yet been tested. .
Nothing that will ever replace a flesh and bone leg, but it comes pretty close. I hope they get this thing in the market soon.
He had an average age of 33.8 years and had amputations above the knee.
The researchers tested the devices as they walked on a treadmill at a speed of one meter per second as well as when they walked a 12-meter walkway.
They found that the use of the hip exoskeleton decreased the metabolic cost of running by 15.6%, compared to the energy used with the prosthesis.
According to the study, this improvement is equivalent to removing a 12 kg bag from someone who has not been amputated.
All participants were also able to walk with the exoskeleton without negatively affecting their gait.
Prof Lenzi said: “We are very close to spending at the same pace as an average person.
“Based on fitness level, a capable person’s metabolic consumption is nearly indistinguishable.”
Stan Scher, who lost his left leg in an accident while helping a neighbor, never thought he’d feel comfortable walking with two healthy legs again.
After trying the exoskeleton, the 74-year-old said: “It felt like a big wind was behind me, pushing me down the road.”
engineering Assistant Professor Lenzi said: “The result, even if you have the ability to move your hip, is your ability to walk is significantly impaired.
“Lacks power and range of motion.”
The device is lightweight with a frame made of carbon-fibre material, while other parts are made of plastic composites and aluminum.
Overall it weighs only 2.44 kg.
Mr Shar said: “The first time I used it, it felt like my muscles were fully attached to this exoskeleton, and it was helping them move faster.
“It helped my foot relax and just move and walk. I could probably walk miles with this thing because it was helping my muscles walk.”
He continued: “This equipment makes up for a lot of what they had to take.
“There’s nothing that will ever replace a flesh-and-bone leg, but it comes pretty close. I hope they get this thing on the market soon.”
The researchers say further clinical studies are needed to optimize the device and assess its efficacy for people with different types of amputation and for people with different potentials for rehabilitation.
He hopes the exoskeleton could be available in a few years.
The research is published in Nature Medicine.