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domingo, 25 de octubre 2020
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Exoskeletons, Ingenuity at the Service of Rehabilitation

by Carlos Olimpo Restrepo Suescún


The standing frame works with levers that allow the user to get up, stand for hours, do activities such as therapy or move in that position in certain spaces. Photo credit: Freddy Luna.

A video published on social networks in late 2019 attracted the interest of a group of mechanical engineers from Universidad de Antioquia. In the video, a teenager in a wheelchair asked for help to be able to walk again.

“After watching that video, we began to think about the best way to help that kid. Freddy Luna, one of our graduates and an expert in the subject, immediately offered materials, tools and manpower. With the money we raised, we got the elements that were still needed for the project”, recalled Pedro Leon Simanca, head of Universidad de Antioquia’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

The equipment, ready for use, is another example of what Luna has come up with to make the lives of people with mobility problems easier. It consists of a wheeled mechanical standing frame which stretches or collapses with a lever. It allows users to do therapy standing; for example, they can use an elliptical trainer.

Luna has received national and international awards for this kind of work. As a child, he showed his creative and innovative spirit at the science fairs of Colegio La Salle de Campoamor, in Medellin. “When I graduated from mechanical engineering in 2010, a friend told me, ‘One of my teachers is in a wheelchair. He’d like to teach his class standing. Could you help him?’ I immediately began to think about what it would be like to make a machine that would help people walk again”, said Luna.

Photo credit: Freddy Luna.

Since then, he has been working on designs based on wheelchairs, which have later turned into exoskeletons. They allow users to stand up or sit down according to their needs. Today, some of these devices allow users to walk some distances with mechanical assistance.

These initiatives have allowed Luna to have his own company with several patents and approval from INVIMA (National Institute for the Surveillance of Medicines and Food) for his equipment. Moreover, he has received awards such as Ingeniero Sembrador de Estrellas (Star Sowing Engineer) and Titanes Caracol (Caracol Titans) for his creativity and altruistic spirit. His work was also recognized by The History Channel when it included one of his projects in the top 10 ideas in Latin America to change history.

Some of the devices developed by Luna are used to make the transport of heavy loads easier at production factories in order to guarantee that workers have a good posture and prevent health problems.

“When Freddy started out, he often came to the university. He would say, ‘Prof, I want to work on these pieces. Is there a chance I can go to the workshop?’ We opened the door for him to come and work with us. We gave him ideas for the projects he was working on to see how he could do a better job”, Leon Simanca recalled.

“I would love to strengthen my links with the university. We constantly develop products that need to be tested in a laboratory, so it’s necessary and very important to have links with a university, especially a world-renowned university like Universidad de Antioquia”, Engineer Luna pointed out.

He highlighted his discipline and creativity to accomplish what he has. Without either one or the other, he doesn’t think it would have been possible to see a project through or start a company. “That is why my advice to students is to let their imagination and creativity run wild, to do what other people haven’t dared to do, to focus on having their own business, to not just study to be employees.”

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