Growing need drives exoskeleton development. Wheelchair-bound patients including paraplegics, people with spinal cord injuries, and stroke victims stand highest on the list of potential beneficiaries of exoskeleton technology. We’ve written about work in exoskeleton development by DARPA, by Marsi Bionics, and many other private, university, and government groups. Toronto- and Boston-based BionikLabs has several upper body exoskeletal products on the market including the InMotion Arm, Hand, and Wrist. The company is currently working on the second version of the ARKE lower body exoskeleton and recently added Amazon Echo Alexa-awareness to the product.
According to BionikLabs, the upper body initiates most movement. Exoskeleton sensors in the feet and joints plus integrated inertia sensors send data to BionikLabs ARKE control unit which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to combine signals from the upper and lower body to allow the user to take steps. Building in Alexa voice assistance technology along with a user-accessible Alexa skill allows the potential for the user to express higher level intentions than taking a series of steps. For example, a user will be able to say, “Alexa, let’s walk out front to get the mail.” With the fully developed ARKE technology patients paralyzed below the waist will be able to exit the house, descend a set of steps, and walk down the sidewalk to retrieve mail from a mailbox.
Bionik Labs’ goal is to develop and produce ARKE lower body exoskeletons at a price point low even enough that a substantial portion of the millions of patients who would be otherwise confined to a wheelchair will have significantly increased mobility and independence at home.