Robotic exosuits show ‘immediate improvements’ to walking speeds of stroke survivors

Brian Heater

A new small study out of Harvard and Boston University is targeting the use of soft robotic exosuits among stroke survivors. The aim is to demonstrate how such technologies could impact the rehabilitation of patients suffering hemiparesis, a kind of paralysis that impacts muscles and limbs on one side of the body.

The results so far seem promising. Among the six patients involved in the study, walking speed has been improved by an average of 0.14 meters a second. The patients are also able to walk 32 meters farther on average during a six-minute interval, with one walking more than 100 meters farther.

The suit itself is small and soft, weighing around 11 pounds, including battery. Electronics aside, it’s largely fabric-based, with actuators mounted on the wearer's hip. Those are used to assist movement in the ankles by way of attached cables. The system can be worn on either side of the body.

“The vast majority of people who have had a stroke walk slowly and cannot walk very far. Faster and farther walking after physical therapy are among the most important outcomes desired by both patients and clinicians. If neither speed nor distance are changed by a therapy, it would be difficult to consider that therapy to be effective,” study co-author and Harvard Wyss faculty member Lou Awad says in a release. “The levels of improvement in speed and distance that we found in our exploratory study exceeded our expectations for an immediate effect without any training and highlight the promise of the exosuit technology.”

Awad says the team is “eager” to explore the results in settings outside of the lab. The team's findings were published in IEEE Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology (OJEMB)