Robotic exoskeleton helps children take their first steps
Trexo Robotics has engineered a wearable solution for kids living with mobility challenges
Trexo Robotics has engineered a wearable solution for kids living with mobility challengesBy Natalie Quinlan University Relations
Manmeet Maggu remembers being a fourth-year University of Waterloo student when his nephew, Praneit, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. With an illness that affects muscle tone, movement and motor skills, Maggu’s family braced for the reality that Praneit would never take his first steps.
Studying to become an engineer at the time, Maggu and classmate Rahul Udasi (BASc ’14) began searching for solutions. After no suitable options appeared, the pair put their mechatronic skills to work, applying what they had learned at Waterloo to address a global problem.
“Cerebral palsy is the most common physical disability among children with more than 500,000 cases in just North America,” Maggu says. “We soon realized that essentially for a child, it means they’re restricted to a wheelchair and we wanted to change that — we wanted to bring more options forward and enable the benefits of walking for him.”
Incorporating this challenge into their fourth-year engineering design project, Maggu and Udasi set off to Delhi, India to test their first robotic exoskeleton prototype on Praneit. Although a few ideations of the product were necessary, these initial efforts became the genesis of Trexo Robotics.
“At first, it did not work,” Maggu recalls. “Thankfully my brother has a workshop there, so we were able to fix the issues. We watched Praneit take his first steps. That was the proudest moment of my life.”
Today, the device is incorporated into Praneit’s daily activities, with the now 11-year-old taking more than 500 steps per session at home or even outside at a nearby park. It’s an experience that wasn’t a possibility before Trexo.
“For us, Trexo is more than just a product. We think of Trexo as a lifestyle companion, designed with the child’s needs in mind,” Maggu says. “Every time we have a family coming in to try the device, watching the smiles on the parents’ faces as well as the kid’s face is always the best moment for us.”
There are 26 Trexo devices currently being used between hospitals and families, with another 40 reservations for the coming year. Every device is carefully developed by a skilled team in Mississauga, Ontario, custom-fitting the unit to each unique user.
“To build a batch of Trexo devices it takes us about two months,” Udasi says. “Once we order the parts, we get them in about a month-and-a-half. During this period, we also do a lot of internal manufacturing, so we 3D-print a lot of parts that go on the device and once we have all the parts, it takes us about two days to put a Trexo together.”
With the robotic exoskeletons yielding high success already, Maggu says he sees a potential for Trexo Robotics to serve older clients, adding value to all walks of life including those with disabilities and the elderly.
“Building a wearable robot that works so closely with the human body is an incredibly challenging task. Everything really needs to come together in perfect unison in order to get to the final goal, which is walking,” Maggu says. “But, we see a future where any repetitive task can actually be augmented through robots. That’s what Trexo Robotics wants to build.”