Exoskeleton developed by Greek Students helps people with disabilities
Hermes Team consisted of IEEE Greek Student Members shares the message of innovation and dedication developing a powered exoskeleton for people with disabilities.
IEEE Region 8 Student and Young Professionals Congress (SYP) has the primary goal to enhance and foster the engineering sense and capabilities through different activities, exchanging experience and knowledge between young professionals and students from different parts of the world. The latest IEEE Region 8 SYP in Porto was the opportunity for the members of two IEEE Student Branches in Greece, to meet and get motivated of what’s coming next.
Sharing the same passion, Ιordanis Kostelidis, Despoina Markoglou, Antonis, Alexos, Tilemachos Tsiapras, Kokozidis Pavlos, Dimitrios Dallas, Stella Konstanti, have been working together during the 2018 SYP, sharing the same vision. To create an exoskeleton to help people with disabilities, offering them the opportunity of a better and easier life.
After working dedicated for more than one year in this demanding project, the team is ready for next big step, to participate at the CYBATHLON 2020, with their pilot Modestos Kapinas.
In Region 8 Today, we spoke with the team, and we share the interesting conversation we had, describing the birth of the idea, the project and their next big step.
R8T: What is an exoskeleton, and how does it work?
A powered exoskeleton is a wearable mobile device that powered by a group of systems in combination of technologies, that allow help limp movement with enhance strength and endurance. It is usually consists of electric motors, control systems, power management and is getting powered from a power source (battery).
Powered exoskeletons are used for medical, military, civilian or industrial use. Their main objective is to give mechanical benefits and movement to the users. A power source (usually battery) provides energy to the electric motors. The motors are controlled by a system that tells them what to do, then to do it and how to do it. Sensors are placed in various positions, to take measurements, and communicate with the main system, for adjustments, alerts, and inform the user for the stability of the device.
R8T: What differentiates Hermes exoskeleton from others?
Hermes Exoskeleton is a wearable robotic exoskeleton that can be built from simple materials (3D Printed parts), known components (e.g. Arduino), be modular (for every user, age, height, weight) and can be maintained from everyone. The main purpose of our device is to help people with paraplegia to stand, walk on straight or bumpy ground, to ascend / descend stairs and more generally to facilitate their daily activities. It works with 4 main exoskeleton motor systems, sponsored by MAXON, they are controlled by a Raspberry Pi (The Raspberry Pi is a low cost, credit-card sized computer) and the system can sense the movements of the user with various sensors, controlled by an Arduino board(Arduino is a simple open source motherboard with built-in microcontroller and inputs / outputs, which can be programmed in the Wiring language). The control of the Exoskeleton movement is achieved through a smaller controller associated with the right crutch, where all control buttons and screen are. Custom-made 2-Layer boards needed to be designed for the necessary control circuits, by Altium Designer. Necessary simulations have been made using MathWorks sponsored software, MATLAB. In addition, through sensors and control systems we ensure maximum performance and security for the user. All of this, of course, are developed with the potential of upgrading both hardware (boards, motors), software (improvement of the operating system specifically designed by us for this application) and functional level (more features like auto balance).
Hermes Exoskeleton is unique, due to its design, simplicity, elegance and modularity.
It’s customizable, which means it can be adapted to each person’s physical specifications (height and weight). It is lightweight, durable, easy to use and comfortable during its use. We achieve the best possible weight-to-strength ratio through the extensive use of composites materials such as carbon fibre and specially selected alloys (such as Al-7075). With the sponsorship of Dassault Systemes of SolidWorks Suite, we made every mechanical components and stress tests necessary for the safety of the device. The key difference is the combination of all those traits, in one device.
R8T: How did this idea born? What motivated you?
The whole idea began in July 2018, during the R8 SYP 2018 Conference, in Porto, between IEEE University of Thessaly Student branch, Greece and IEEE RaS Student Chapter – International University of Greece (former TEI of Central Macedonia), Greece. We realized that, as young student engineers, there is a need of synergies inside the ecosystem of IEEE, between organizational units, and more specific, branches and student chapters. And out of nothing the idea stroke. We saw in IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine an article dedicated to Cybathlon That was it. From that moment, we decided to build an exoskeleton, for paraplegic persons in order to participate in the competition.
R8T: How does the life of a paraplegic person change by using an exoskeleton?
The life of a disabled person with the help of an exoskeleton is significantly improved. Daily tasks such as ascending and descending a series of stairs are becoming routine. It changes dramatically. Improving the daily routine of paraplegic people is being upgraded, so they can only serve themselves in their daily routine. It has an impact on the exercise and health of the user, as blood circulation returns to more normal rhythms and the risk of thrombosis is reduced. In addition, pressure sores are minimized, as they are the main danger of paraplegic individuals. It also reintroduces the user to society, having the ability to socialize and start a normal life. Ability to work, moreover, is feasible, as mobility issues are minimized.
R8T: Is it difficult for someone to wear the exoskeleton?
Not at all. Each exoskeleton has a specific way that can be worn.To be more precise, with our exoskeleton, the start position of the device is at the sitting position, so that each user, with a wheelchair, can be transferred without any particular help, to the appropriate position to fit the device to the user needs. With Velcro straps, the user can fasten to the knees, thighs, buttocks and chest for better fit with the device, and balance in movement. Also, there are cuffs for better stability, and security of the user. Once it is fastened, the user is ready to boot the device through a modified crutch that is attached to the device.
R8T: Seeing young people working with such enthusiasm and dedication on a demanding project, is very motivational. However, the team also includes women, and I want to ask them. What’s your influence being an engineer?
Been a female engineer in a male dominant industry, is very challenging. Been engineer and make things work, innovate and think different, is what makes us push ourselves. Our influence comes from the very fundamental fact, that there are not so many engineers in the industry. As IEEE Women in Engineering and been part of an IEEE project team, we try to give every day, everything we got, apply theory into practice, in our technical field of study, to achieve innovation. Self-discipline, goals and consistency are key factors to achieve and complete the milestones that we set every week, and step by step we work among men, for a common goal. To complete the project and advance technology for humanity.
R8T: What’s next for Hermes team?
After the first prototype, the exoskeleton will compete to Cybathlon 2020. The exoskeleton will be tested to our premises, at Helexpo, Thessaloniki, in which is our sponsor, regarding the availability of the necessary space to make our training of our user pilot, and test in action how the exoskeleton behaves. After that, many scenarios have been made. In our everyday life, each individual has a plan for personal and professional development. Some will follow a Master’s Degree in Europe, other have a dream to build a start-up. The main concept stays the same. We build an applicable device that can improve other people’s lives. This is our IEEE dream, and we intend to keep it to our hearts. Hermes exoskeleton will always be the beacon that will remind us who we are and what we do. Apparently, the new breed of engineers will take over to build Mark 2, that new features will take place, and advance technological innovation for the betterment of humanity.