California-based robotics company suitX took the top prize for designing and manufacturing medical and industrial exoskeletons, emerging as the winner of the $1 million prize in the international Robotics for Good competition for its pediatric medical exoskeleton.
The company competed in an original pool of 664 entries from 121 countries to a short list of 20 and finally down to three finalists that presented before the judges in Dubai.
The pediatric exoskeleton builds on the Phoenix platform, with several modifications in hardware and software to improve children’s ability to acquire locomotion skills.
The device is designed to help children who have neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida, in which walking is difficult or impossible.
The competition’s goal is to develop technologies leading to an exoskeleton that promotes walking skills among children during the narrow timeframe when they more easily acquire locomotion skills.
“One of the biggest challenges in developing Phoenix was making an exoskeleton that was not only light but functional, using the fewest number of necessary elements needed to get someone walking,” Homayoon Kazerooni, founder of suitX, told eWEEK. “Because we were able to accomplish this, the Phoenix is not only light at 27 pounds, but inexpensive.”
He explained that suitX plans to evolve the design by taking on new projects that entail working with people who can benefit from the company’s technology.
An example of this is the company’s recent work with children who have neurological disorders, which resulted in winning the 2016 UAE Robotics for Good competition.
“While $40,000 may seem expensive, this is rather inexpensive [compared] to other exoskeletons on the market that can range [from] $70,000 to $120,000,” Kazerooni said. “Not to mention the money saved on health care costs associated [with] postsecondary injuries for people with spinal cord injuries.”
He also noted that at 27 pounds, the Phoenix is one of the world’s lightest and most advanced commercial exoskeletons, uses a wealth of state-of-the-art embedded intelligence, and has a minimal design to make the exoskeletons accessible and simple to manufacture.
The Phoenix has a modular design, making it customizable to fit users with various conditions. It costs $40,000, and the company is currently taking preorders for the device.
While the Phoenix medical exoskeleton is designed to provide gait rehabilitation for people who have mobility disorders, the company’s industrial exoskeleton (MAX) is designed to reduce the risk of occupational injuries among workers who carry out labor-intensive work.