Lower-extremity Powered ExoSkeleton, or LOPES, has been developed by engineers at the University of Twente in Enschede in the Netherlands.
The prototype device works by training the body and mind of a stroke patient to recover a more natural step. It uses its robotic legs to try and improve the movement of stroke patients.
LOPES is designed for the rehabilitation clinic, it is not a mobile device but supports the patient as they walk on a treadmill.
Dr. Edwin van Asseldonk, who is working on the project, believes that with LOPES, stroke patients can be guided physically of how to walk properly. The machine can also help them develop the brain signals required to drive improved movement.
It can do all the walking for the patient, or it can offer targeted support in either one leg or with one element of the walking process.
The machine can also detect what the patient is doing wrong. “For instance, some people cannot lift their foot up appropriately,” explains Dr Edwin van Asseldonk, “What this device does is it senses that the foot is not lifting properly.
“It then compares it with a reference pattern and then exerts a force or torque to assist that subject in doing it.”
Dr. Edwin van Asseldonk explains that LOPES has been used and tested to a seventeen year old stroke patient. Though her long time physiotherapy have helped, she still has that “drop foot”, which means she cannot lift and flex her left foot in the way she once did, or even remember how to do so.
The machine provides the forces to enable her to physically move her left leg and foot the way it should move, but it also operates as a memory aid, the researchers believe.
Work on a commercial version of the LOPES machine is already under way, with two private companies co-operating on the project. Two rehabilitation centers in the Netherlands will then test the device before it is rolled out to other clinics at home and abroad.