Mobility researcher Edward Lemaire watched as a patient, long bound to his wheelchair, stood up and looked around the room.
He marvelled at his own height. And then he started to walk.
A robotic exoskeleton called ARKE was attached to the patient’s lower body, strapped around his waist, legs and feet. Its carbon fibre walking frame was powered by a lithium battery pack and actuators at the hips and knees.
Controlled by a tablet, ARKE held the patient upright and bent with his human leg joints. It prevented his limbs from collapsing and helped him take his first robotically assisted steps.
Developed by Toronto-based company Bionik Laboratories and studied by The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, ARKE is a wearable robot with life-altering potential for paraplegics and other users with impaired mobility.
“His wife was able to walk up and hug him, standing, for the first time,” recalled Lemaire, a researcher at the Institute. “We’re at really the initial stages and it’s kind of exciting to think where things can go. It all comes down to these devices getting smarter.”