Watch a robotic exoskeleton help a stroke patient walk

Although it’s a far cry from the exosuits of science fiction, researchers have developed a robotic exoskeleton that can help stroke victims regain use of their legs. Nine out of 10 stroke patients are afflicted with partial paralysis, leaving some with an abnormal gait. The exosuit works by pulling cords attached to a shoe insole, providing torque to the ankle and correcting the abnormal walking motion. With the suit providing assistance to their joints, the stroke victims are able to maintain their balance, and walk similarly to the way they had prior to their paralysis, the team reports today in Science Translational Medicine. The exosuit is an adaptation of a previous design developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Warrior Web program, a Department of Defense plan to develop assistive exosuits for military applications. Although similar mechanical devices have been built in the past to assist in gait therapy, these were bulky and had to be kept tethered to a power source. This new suit is light enough that with a decent battery, it could be used to help patients walk over terrain as well, not just on a treadmill. The researchers say that although the technology needs long-term testing, it could start to decrease the time it takes for stroke patients to recover in the near future.