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Vancouver robotics company helping paraplegics walk again with cutting-edge exoskeleton

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When Chloe Angus is strapped into an exoskeleton made by Human in Motion Robotics in Vancouver, she can once again stand and walk.

It’s something the high-flying fashion designer could never have imagined when she suffered a devastating spinal cord injury in 2015. A sudden bleed in a benign tumour in her spinal cord pinched off all the nerves below her waist, and Angus became a paraplegic in a span on 24 hours.

“It was early in my injury I started to look for an alternative of what my life would look like living in a wheelchair,” said Angus. She learned about Human in Motion Robotics, a company making exoskeletons that allow people like her to walk again.

“Our goal was developing a wearable suit that enables those people with motion disabilities to walk similar to able-bodied people,” said Human in Motion Robotics co-founder and CEO Dr. Siamak Arzanpour.

After several prototypes, the company has perfected a version of the wearable exoskeleton that it plans to build and use in clinical trials. Angus, who was hired as the company’s Director of Lived Experience, is helping them design it for use by paraplegics.

“It feels like freedom, it feels like independence,” Angus said about the robotic suit, which she operates with a small hand-held remote control. “To be back up at eye level and participating at my fullest, it feels wonderful. It feels like myself again.”

And the next generation will be even more high tech. “Our future goal is to use the brain signal and other interfaces for making the communication between the exoskeleton and human intuitive,” said Arzanpour, who also works as a professor of Mechatronic Systems Engineering at Simon Fraser University. The school has been central to research that helped develop this technology.

There are benefits beyond the obvious feeling of freedom and independence for people who rely on wheelchairs to get around. Being able to periodically stand and walk prevents common chronic health issues for paraplegics like pressure sores, muscle atrophy and poor circulation.

“The day I see people out on the street using exoskeletons instead of wheelchairs, having options for their mobility, that will be a great day,” said Angus.

And according to Human in Motion Robotics, that day isn’t far off.

“Early next year, we are going to build 10 to 15 units of these exoskeletons to start out clinical testing and going through the process of regulatory approval and selling the exoskeleton,” said Arzanpour.

“I want other wheelchair users to know this technology is here, and it’s coming,” said Angus. “I think it’s so important to know that your limitations of what we have had offered to us in the past is no longer going to be our limitations in the future. We will be able to access the world around us independently.”

  

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