The goal of Project MARCH is the development and construction of an exoskeleton for paraplegics that can accomplish the six obstacles of the Cybathlon within ten minutes. The Cybathlon is a competition for bionic para-athletes where commercial and academic teams compete with an exoskeleton to complete the six obstacles of the competition as quick as possible. These obstacles are designed as imitations of daily life obstacles for wheelchair users. There are plans for an upcoming spin-off of the Cybathlon in October 2017. This will be a great opportunity to test ourselves, to come into contact with and learn from other exoskeletons teams and to generate publicity.
Currently, there is no exoskeleton that can accomplish all six obstacles in a row. By overcoming these obstacles, teams can prove their exoskeleton not only functions well but can also be used to improve the daily life of paraplegic patients. Project MARCH 2016-2017 wants to win this competition so we may rightfully call our exoskeleton the best in the world! In this way, we want to take a step towards the longterm vision of Project MARCH and contribute to the development of this groundbreaking biomedical technology.
At this moment the biomedical technology with regard to exoskeletons is underdeveloped and people with paralyzed or malfunctioning legs are bounded to wheelchairs for the rest of their lives. They do not have a choice. But Project MARCH wants to change!
Project MARCH wants to return full mobility to paraplegics, and allow them to express themselves without any limits by means of an exoskeleton!
Simple daily activities such as groceries, or walking a dog, are often challenging or even impossible for people that are bounded to a wheelchair.
By giving back full freedom of movement, the paraplegic experiences not only the practical benefits of autonomy like going wherever he wants to go himself, but he or she will also be able to communicate at eye-level with friends and family again, rather than constantly being "looked down".
In addition, the paraplegic's health condition improves significantly by using an exoskeleton. For example, their bones and muscles become stronger, the risk of thrombosis decreases, the bowel function improves, and they experience less pain during sleep. The dependency of care providers and insurers decreases.
Although the project is currently only focusing on people with a spinal cord injury, our project could be further extended in the future to patients that suffer from MS or ALS, or people who have had a work accident.
There is no exoskeleton that can complete all six obstacles in a row.
Project MARCH aims to be the first one!
Why these obstacles?
The obstacles of the Cybathlon are based on daily activities that are easily done by healthy people without even thinking, but that are physically impossible to accomplish for wheelchair users. During the Cybathlon, teams can test their exoskeleton on their applicability to daily life, compare their own achievements with other teams, generate publicity and exchange knowledge with other teams.
Sitting down and getting up again is a simple movement we start our day with everyday while waking up. You probably didn't even think about it this morning. However, getting up with an exoskeleton is a bigger challenge. A significant amount of power is required for sitting down and getting up from a deep sofa in a controlled way.
In our daily lives we often encounter a static or moving object that we have to avoid in order to reach our destination. The slalom represents this situation.
3. Slope & Door
Completing both uphill and downhill slopes together with opening and closing a door are two other examples of daily activities that are challenging for an exoskeleton. This obstacle will require the exoskeleton to move forward, sideways, and even backwards.
For this obstacle, the exoskeleton must exactly step on the "stones" that are randomly positioned on the floor. In daily life you must be able to step over things or to place your feet very precisely. Therefore the exoskeleton should be able to estimate the distance and calculate the step length exactly in order to reach the correct position.
5. Tilted paths
Not all streets are perfectly straight and we often encounter tilted paths. The pilot in the exoskeleton must be able to ensure stability even in a condition like this and walk straight.
One of the biggest obstacles for people in wheelchairs: the stairs. This is a very dangerous obstacle consisting of six steps up and down. The pilot has a choice to climb the stairs either forwards or backwards.