Please, help us to build this robot, because we need [...] To walk, to play, to dance with a ballet skirt ... ". Words in a video summarizing the desire of several children wheelchair wheels just dream of being able to lead a normal life. Today, an illusion, but with great potential to become reality soon. An exoskeleton created by the Spanish company Marsi Bionics has the key. You only need economic resources to improve the machinery build more units, subject them to trial and marketed for home use. To this end, a campaign of 'crowdfunding' occurs.
What would a robot like this? As Anne says, the mother of one of the small, Alvaro, three years and spinal muscular atrophy (SMA): "Normality, my son can play with his brother, pee or wash your hands alone, which I can do all things that any child is doing in your life. " When Ana explains that the exoskeleton that would allow performing the same tasks as their friends there, excited and quickly begins to make plans: "We will play football, we run, go to the park ...".
Two years ago "developed the first exoskeleton in the world for quadriplegics kids. It was a milestone, a breakthrough that has scientific and international recognition, with eight awards from prestigious organizations such as Elsevier or euRobotics" explains Elena García, industrial engineer , CSIC researcher and founding partner of Marsi (it means to walk in Esperanto) Bionics. The prototype passed the proof of concept in a quadriplegic 9 year old girl in April 2013. From there, "we received many calls from parents of children with spinal cord injury interested in buying the robot". It is estimated that in Spain there are 120,000 children with different pathologies (cereral palsy, spina bifida, etc.) that prevent them from walking, 700,000 in Europe and about 17 million worldwide.
Given the expectations, argues García, from 2013 "we are making a superhuman effort to make this exoskeleton longer a research prototype and a reality in homes" of all affected children. "Marsi Bionics is the only company worldwide that aims to commercialize pediatric exoskeletons".
To date, researchers have developed two prototypes. The first, which was tested in 2013, and the second smallest in the world, including a system of balance for which no additional support element is not necessary. It has five motors limb and "would make turns without the help of anyone." At the end of the day, says the researcher, "pediatric patients have not sufficient strength and chest control in the arms either." The lithium battery is rechargeable, and with a range of about five hours.
For children with neurodegenerative diseases who are unable to walk, "provide an apparatus with which they get is a miracle, and restore sight to the blind," said Gustavo Lorenzo, medical neurologist Ramón y Cajal Hospital in Madrid. Beyond this "miracle mission, this technology will mobilize tips disuse is going to atrophy and even long term could talk about a cure in quotes but real. His column is deformed. If we are able to tolerate this exoskeleton at home the maximum number of hours are convinced that her column will suffer much less and that's going to make them have a better quality of life and longer life expectancy. "
To check these purposes, "they are needed more equipment to develop clinical trials with enough patients to allow us to see how it evolves the column and if you really get that deformity is delayed because it is what will guarantee us an improvement and a cure in terms of increased life expectancy. "
In short, now that technology possible, "we must make it available to society," says Garcia. "Today we have not found a financial mechanism to carry out this process of technology transfer." Several venture capital firms are interested in investing when Marsi Bionics "is ripe to bill". For this it is necessary first obtaining FDA and CE marked exoskeletons. Because they are medical products, "they must meet security regulations", subject to the corresponding tests and "a clinical evaluation of the hand of a referral hospital." Throughout this process, says the researcher, it requires an injection close to a million euros, "of which 300,000 have achieved."
This amount will go to two projects. The first, in the University Children's Hospital Sant Joan de Deu (Barcelona), where eight children with SMA use the robot in the rehabilitation service for three months. "We will analyze the impact and the functionality of the exoskeleton in the hospital setting," argues Garcia. The second experiment was conducted at the University Hospital Ramon y Cajal in Madrid, but the goal will be to make a clinical evaluation of a child who will use this technology in their home for a year. For this purpose, there are four candidates, including Alvaro.
As for the remaining 600,000 euros, "we hope to obtain public support of Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology (CDTI) and the campaign of 'crowdfunding'" explains the founder of Marsi Bionics. To access CDTI funding, he argues, "we need to expand capital at least up to 100,000 euros".