Project MARCH takes the first step to prepare exoskeletons for daily use

Last night Project MARCH presented the design of their new exoskeleton, the MARCH VI, via a virtual presentation. With this new design, the TU Delft student team is mainly focusing on making the exoskeleton suitable for daily use. Based on the new design and its elaboration in the physical exoskeleton, the team wants to be able to walk around the center of Delft at the end of August. This season, the team is also working with Koen van Zeeland, the new driver of the exoskeleton.

MARCH VI exoskeleton improvements

Innovations in the exoskeleton of the sixth team are:

  • A depth camera: these are the ‘eyes’ of the exoskeleton. This allows the camera to see where the exoskeleton can walk and adjust the desired step and walking patterns accordingly.
  • Pressure sensors in the sole of the shoe: In unfamiliar terrain, it is also important that the exoskeleton – to maintain balance – knows when a step has been taken. With the help of pressure sensors, the exoskeleton knows whether the pilot is still leaning or has already completed the movement.
  • Doubling the battery capacity: we have doubled the battery capacity and built in a quick release system so that the battery can be easily removed and recharged. The longer battery life is important for everyday use.
  • Addition of a hinge at the hip for easy entry into the exoskeleton: the leg of the exoskeleton can now be folded out an additional 60 degrees, making it easier for the pilot to get from his wheelchair to his exoskeleton.
  • The exoskeleton structure has been optimized: this means that less material is used. Furthermore, the hoods are built in such a way that splash water and dirt cannot penetrate the exoskeleton.

In previous years, the focus of the teams was mainly on innovations in the exoskeleton to overcome obstacles, such as a sloping slope or uneven ground. These obstacles were tested indoors, culminating in the participation in the Cybathlon, an annual international competition for (robotic) solutions for people with disabilities.

Exoskeleton as an alternative tool with important health benefits

Project MARCH sees the future of the exoskeleton as an assistive device and not as a replacement for the wheelchair. Walking in an exoskeleton offers many health benefits for people with a spinal cord injury, both mental and physical benefits such as strengthening of the muscles and bones, improved blood flow, bowel and bladder function and reduction of nerve pain.

New director Koen

This year, Project MARCH’s sixth team is working with a new pilot, Koen van Zeeland. He succeeds the previous ‘pilot’ Sjaan Quirijns, who has worked for previous Project MARCH teams for 3 years. Koen already has experience with exoskeletons after he was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury in 2013 and was therefore allowed to walk in the exoskeleton of the Sint Maartenskliniek, called Rewalk. Since this year he has been the pilot of Project MARCH and the team listens to his wishes as a user. Collaboration with Koen is essential to achieve the right and user-friendly innovations.

The next steps for MARCH VI

Chief Engineer Eva van Houwelingen says: “This is the start of a generation of exoskeletons that are really attuned to the daily living environment and situations of the drivers, people with a spinal cord injury. After presenting the new innovative design for the new exoskeleton, we will start assembling all parts. We expect to be able to start training with Koen in May. Our ultimate goal: to walk around with Koen and the exoskeleton in the center of Delft in August. ”

Over Project MARCH

Project MARCH is a student team from TU Delft that is committed every year to develop an exoskeleton for someone with a spinal cord injury. This exoskeleton, a robotic motor harness, allows a spinal cord injury to get up and walk again. The Project MARCH team changes every academic year, with a new team of students volunteering for a year to design and produce a new point zero exoskeleton, while building on the knowledge of previous teams. This year it is already the sixth team to work on this. Project MARCH’s vision is to use technology to improve the quality of life of people with spinal cord injuries.

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