At the Toyota Mobility Festival, innovators from around the world competed to create the most ‘game-changing’ technologies to help those with lower limb paralysis. The five finalists received $500 000 each to turn their idea into a prototype, and the final winner will be awarded $1 million in 2020 in Tokyo. Kenji Suzuki and the QOLO Team (Quality of Life with Locomotion) from University of Tsukuba in Japan has created a mobile exoskeleton on wheels, and allows users to sit or stand with ease. It’s set to change the way people with lower limb paralysis move around and live their lives.
“We want to provide a standing mobility device for people forced to be seated. Our device is innovative because it removes the ‘chair’ from wheelchair,” says Suzuki.
What benefits come from a lack of electric power?
QOLO-T is integrated with torso support for the person who needs it. The device is based on an array of force sensors located at the abdominal contact area of the user. Due to the lack of electric power, the user is able to control the movements freely, changing their posture to intermediate postures (not fully seated or standing) with natural motions of the upper-body rather than button-controlled interfaces.
Where did the idea of the exoskeleton come from?
Our idea is centred around the need for a hands-free locomotion with full assistance for natural standing and sitting motions. The exoskeleton is a good solution. By using a smart mechanism that combines a passive actuator (gas-spring) and a synchronous lower-body and upper-body motion to ensure a voluntary sit-to-stand and stand-to-sit (STS) transition, we can provide a system that works without electric power.
How will it improve the lives of those who use it?
This mobility vehicle will not only allow people to stand and reach for something, but also assist those with lower-limb disabilities to interact at eye level. Our device will enable users to have a choice of standing whenever they want, giving back the ability to communicate and participate in society at the same height as others.
Tell us more about the team.
The team consists of; Kenji Suzuki, a current Professor of the Faculty of Engineering, Information and Systems at the university; Hideki Kadone, an assistant professor of the Faculty of Medicine at the university; and Yukiyo Shimizu, a lecturer in Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Tskuba Hospital. We are a team from different backgrounds.
By co-creating, we have understood the medical implications of living in a wheelchair. Lower-limb bone density reduction and bedsores are common medical issues resulting from seated living. Social and psychological effects are also forgotten at times. Therefore, we believe having better mobility aides in a healthier physical and social life.
Where do you see this product in five years?
We will develop this device as a full mobility solution, launch a company and reach more people. Launching a company is the best way to support our project.