Home LATEST NEWS HIGH TECH Walking when the legs no longer carry: the hope of exoskeletons

Walking when the legs no longer carry: the hope of exoskeletons


The young French company Wandercraft is one of the most promising on the market for walking exoskeletons, intended for people with paralyzed lower limbs.

It’s a walking robot that sits around your legs and walks for you, or lets you walk if you still have some residual power.explains Jean-Louis Constanza, co-founder of Wandercraft.

The robot can be piloted by a joystick, by the movements of the bust, even the movements of the head, if its or its pilot is quadriplegic.

For the moment, walking exoskeletons have found an outlet in hospital rehabilitation departments, where patients use these still cumbersome machines to rehabilitate themselves in walking, or simply to regain – even briefly – the standing position. and all its benefits for body and mind.

A man walks with an exoskeleton, surrounded by people in suits.

A demonstration of the Atalante prototype from Wandercraft


Find his place

The market is small, but Wandercraft has several competitors all over the world, such as the American Ekso Bionics, the Japanese Cyberdyne or the prototypes produced by research laboratories.

In 2020 in Switzerland, the Cybathlon competition between walking exoskeletons saw the triumph of the South Korean exoskeletons from the Angel Robotics laboratory and those from the young Swiss company Twiice, judged on their ability to complete a given course as quickly as possible.

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However, unlike its competitors, the Atalante balances itself, and does not require its pilot to use crutches to stabilize itself.

He is able to take very quick small steps that prevent him from fallingexplains Jean-Louis Constanza, who underlines the complexity of the mathematical and physical problems that had to be solved to achieve this feat.

This ability to balance without crutches is particularly useful for male and female patients who have high spinal cord injuries and therefore cannot use walking sticksconfirms Doctor Jacques Kerdraon, from the Kerpape rehabilitation center, who bought an Atalante.

In total, Wandercraft has sold more than twenty of these devices, the price of which can be estimated at between 150,000 and 200,000 euros (about 197,000 to 260,000 Canadian dollars).

Exoskeletons for everyday life

Nevertheless, the real ambition is to one day market a device that is lighter than the big Atalante machine, an exoskeleton that is sufficiently manageable to allow the patient to put it on without help and move around at home or in the street.

A technologically ambitious objective, of which Jean Michenaud, biomechanical engineer at the National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology, doubts a little.

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Such a machine is very bulky, needs batteries and should be able to make very complicated, non-cyclical movements, such as getting into a car or climbing stairssays the researcher.

I think it’s possible, but we’re probably still a long way off.believes for his part Tobias Bützer, researcher at the ETH laboratory in Zurich, Switzerland, which organizes the Cybathlon.

One of the main issues is designing an exoskeleton that can fit a lot of people, not just a given pilot.he explains. It has to be light, fast, stable…

A person with an exoskeleton, bird's eye view.

A prototype of the Project MARCH student team at the 2019 Cybathlon


Jacques Kerdraon, the doctor at the rehabilitation center, is on his side more optimistic. We are in the process of setting up a feasibility study for an exoskeleton allowing autonomy of movement in an apartment, he says.

There are still steps to validate on the acceptability by patients, long term use, the population concerned

In any case, there would be great benefits in verticalizing spinal cord injuries for a prolonged period at homeaccording to him.

The next edition of the Cybathlon, in 2024, will include one event – ​​out of ten – of walking without crutches, to test the progress of all exoskeletons towards self-balancing.

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