Giving back full mobility to people with a Spinal Cord Injury to fully participate in daily activities and in this way contribute to quality of life. That is what Project MARCH is about. They work this out by designing and building an exoskeleton for people with a spinal cord injury. The exoskeleton is an essential step to a future where there are no more wheelchairs on the streets. The ultimate goal is to make an exoskeleton that is accessible and available for everyone who can benefit from it. A lot of the needed technology does already exist. However, there is also research required about new technologies and their application in this project. It is up to us to combine these different technologies in one possible implementation: a new and improved exoskeleton. We already made several successful exoskeletons, yet we still dream of a better exoskeleton that is for example self-balancing. With this feature, a person with a spinal cord injury can walk with a natural gait and independently without crutches. Together with the government and health insurances, we want to make a future where everyone who benefits from the suit can use it.
In this advanced project, initiated and carried out by students of the TU Delft, a new team of students commits to the development of the ultimate exoskeleton every year. This motoric harness, developed with the newest technique and robotics, enables people with a Spinal Cord Injury to stand up and walk again. Maybe in the future even much more. Every year further develops the improvement and optimization of the prototype of the previous year. In this co-creation is central. This is done by close cooperation with the pilot; the person with Spinal Cord Injury that is in control over the exoskeleton, and the health sector.
Project MARCH is a unique project that separates themselves from other developers in several aspects:
The unique construction; every year a new team takes on the challenge of improving the current prototype. These students put their study on hold for a year. This yearly cycle causes for a team full of motivated, sharp, and innovative students.
Taking up a new challenge is a returning theme. We can see that in: the attitude and qualifications of the team members, an improved prototype every year and facing the ultimate challenge at the end of the year. Every year the team test the new prototype in a competition against other exoskeletons.
The commitment of predecessors. Every year the exoskeleton of the previous team gets optimized by a new team. While doing so, the team gets a lot of consultancy from their predecessors; their knowledge and experience about their dreamteam year and the exoskeleton technology are valuable.
The focus on innovation contributes towards a product that is built around user-friendliness and fine motor skills for daily use. Commercial aspects do not limit us and this combined with a yearly cycle makes it possible to implement useful features quickly.
The co-creation with both the pilot and the Sint Maartenskliniek. Co-creation is essential for the development of the ultimate exoskeleton. The pilot and physiotherapists have a lot of knowledge and experience about the paraplegic body and what should work better.
Every team of Project MARCH starts the year with one goal: to develop and optimize the exoskeleton prototype (the MARCH) of the previous year. We strive to build an exoskeleton that is trustworthy and fulfills the basic movements. Some examples are standing up, walking and the movements of the most important joints of the lower body. These basic functionalities must answer to the pilot needs, be trustworthy and solid. After that, we look at useful additional functionalities. Every new aspect is thoroughly considered based on criteria in the categories user-friendliness and daily use for someone with a spinal cord injury.
At the end of the year, the prototype will participate in the ultimate test: the Paralympic bionic games called the Cybathlon. In this competition, pilots from different international teams will go toe-to-toe in a race in their exoskeleton. In ten minutes they have to overcome everyday situations. We thrive to win the Cybathlon and so prove that the MARCH is a top-class and user-friendly exoskeleton.
Project MARCH focuses on building an exoskeleton for people with a complete spinal cord injury. A spinal cord injury is damage to the spinal cord. It can have different causes, for example, a fracture to the neck or spine. The spinal cord is a passage where all kinds of nerves go through. These nerves function as communication channels for the body. They also play a crucial role in the control of your muscles. When the spinal cord is injured, it is impossible to pass any signals through beyond that point. So from the point of the injury and downwards, the person is paralyzed. For this project, it is essential that the pilot still has full control over his or her arms. This is the reason why we only focus on a spinal cord injury, who are at chest height or lower.
When diagnosing a spinal cord injury, a distinction is made between complete or incomplete paraplegia. Project MARCH focuses on the target audience of people with complete paraplegia, meaning the damage is permanent and thereby incurable.