Editorial Feature

Toyota's Robotic Leg to Allow Paralyzed Individuals to Walk Again

According to the recent survey conducted on 33,000 households, it is estimated that 5.6 million people live with some form of paralysis, which further indicates that one in every fifty Americans is currently living with paralysis1.

Paralysis describes a loss of muscle function as a result of a loss of communication between the brain and the paralyzed organ2. This loss in muscle function can be attributed to stroke or other injuries, such as those affecting the spinal cord2.

Paralysis can be classified into complete paralysis, where both the sides of the body are affected, or partial paralysis, in which one of the sides, or a particular organ is affected. In either of these cases, paralysis could cause to cause much physical and psychological damage to the affected person2.

The only current treatment option for paralyzed patients is to treat the underlying cause2. Long-term paralysis can be treated through long-term rehabilitation therapy, which often involves physical therapy, occupational therapy and other related specialties2.

With a focus on improving the mobility of the paralyzed part of the body, physical therapy works on strength building exercises on the other muscles that are still functioning properly in order to compensate for the affected part2. Occupational therapy works with patients to develop special techniques that help them perform daily activities, such as eating and bathing, in a way that will improve the quality of the affected individual at home or in their work environment2.

Robotics is a branch of engineering that involves the conception, design, manufacturing and operation of robots, which are automatic devices that perform functions which are normally ascribed to humans or a machine in the form of a human3,4.

The application of robotics for the improvement of walking and rehabilitation purposes has recently received an increasing amount of attention5. In fact, Israeli manufacturer ReWalk Robotics has recently developed a battery-powered wearable exoskeleton which enables individuals who rely on a wheelchair to stand upright and walk.

On April 14th, 2017, Toyota debuted a wearable robotic leg known as the Welwalk WW-1000 system that is designed to be worn on one leg at a time for patients who are severely disabled on one or both sides of the body5.

The Welwalk WW-1000 system is equipped with a motorized mechanical frame that can be fitted to a person’s leg below the knee, which has already allow these patients to practice walking on a special treadmill that can support the body weight of the individual walking on it5. The motor in the robotic leg allows the bending and flexing the knee, while sensors in the device monitors the walking, while also being capable of adjusting certain aspects of the device when the patient needs help5.

The device is attached with a strap to the thigh, knee, ankle and foot of the person using it. A touch screen display provides information about what is happening by receiving feedback from the sensors, which thereby allows medical staff to control the system. These ultrasensitive sensors are capable of allowing patients to recover from common paralysis more quickly than ever before, especially as compared to traditional therapies for such injuries5.

The Welwalk WW-1000 system will allow therapists in the future to monitor the progress of the paralyzed patient, which will also allow for the faster recovery times that are attributed to this device5. Toyota has reported that they will be renting out one hundred robotic legs to medical facilities in Japan later this year with a one-time cost of $9,000, as well as a monthly fee of $3,2005.

References:

  1. Doheny, Kathleen. "One in 50 Americans Lives With Paralysis." ABC News. ABC News Network, 22 Apr. 1970. Web. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=7392356.
  2. "Paralysis." MedlinePlus. Web. https://medlineplus.gov/paralysis.html.
  3. "What Is Robotics?" Carnegie Mellon University. Web. http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~chuck/robotpg/robofaq/1.html.
  4. "What Is Robotics?" WhatIs.com. Web. http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/robotics.
  5. Kageyama, Yuri. "Toyota Shows Robotic Leg Brace To Help Paralyzed People Walk." Scitech Daily. 14 Apr. 2017. Web. http://www.sci-tech-today.com/story.xhtml?story_id=10200AN3O18U.
  6. Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/OlesiaBilkei

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Benedette Cuffari

Written by

Benedette Cuffari

After completing her Bachelor of Science in Toxicology with two minors in Spanish and Chemistry in 2016, Benedette continued her studies to complete her Master of Science in Toxicology in May of 2018. During graduate school, Benedette investigated the dermatotoxicity of mechlorethamine and bendamustine, which are two nitrogen mustard alkylating agents that are currently used in anticancer therapy.

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