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viernes, 26 de abril 2019
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UdeA alumnus develops groundbreaking, low-cost robotic exoskeleton

UdeA School of Engineering graduate Freddy Luna has developed a robotic exoskeleton suit that enables disabled people to stand upright and walk. Luna’s invention may help Luis Fernando Montoya (a former Colombian soccer coach who became paraplegic in 2004) stand up or even walk.

Photo: On the right, the robotic exoskeleton that earned Luna a spot as a finalist in History Channel's 'One Idea' and Caracol's 'Titanes'.   

Freddy graduated from Universidad de Antioquia in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.  Since then he has been working to develop unique, groundbreaking solutions and initiatives to change the lives of the disabled.

He came up with the idea of developing a robotic exoskeleton after a friend asked him to create a device that would allow a disabled teacher to deliver classes standing up.  “Although I failed to achieve such a challenging goal I think that’s how it all started,” Luna said.

An exoskeleton is a wearable robotic suit which allows a disabled person to carry out everyday activities such as standing up and walking. Luna's company manufactures two types of exoskeletons: hydraulic stand-up lifts, and mobility aids powered by rechargeable batteries.

Although exoskeletons are available to disabled people worldwide, they remain relatively expensive (about $60,000 USD or more). In addition, very few companies commercialize this type of devices. "Many disabled people can't use exoskeletons because these are designed to be used by people with specific injuries," says Luna.

With that problem in mind, he designed a robotic exoskeleton which is both efficient and low-cost, meaning that more paraplegics will be able to afford these devices. In addition, the device is designed in such a way that anyone with severe spinal cord injuries, as well as people with paraplegia, quadriparesis, and even those with some forms of quadriplegia, can walk without crutches. When the user sits down, the device transforms into a wheelchair without the use of muscle movement.

In addition to providing a number of psychological benefits, exoskeletons can also help prevent and cut down serious health issues such as bedsores, osteoporosis, urinary tract and bowel disorders, muscular atrophy, and blood pressure disorders.

To date, Luna has developed five prototype exoskeletons. The commercial robotic exoskeleton will hit the market in 2017 at one-tenth the cost of similar models.

“I've always considered myself a creative and ingenious person. I knew my idea was worth pursuing, so I said to myself 'Ok let's do it', says Luna. He recalls, “My friend had a car accident and his female companion was severely injured, so I thought I could do something to help my friend's friend get up and stand.”     

The first prototypes he developed were made from recycled waste materials (aluminum, garden hoses, syringes). "It was more like a sort of school science fair project, even so I managed to develop a device capable of helping move the legs and maintain balance" he recalls.

Luna's company offers a wide variety of mobility aids for people with disabilities including fixed and mobile hydraulic stand-up lifts (which allow a disabled person to stand up and sit down), and walking aids, which will be available as of 2017.

With his invention, Luna became one of the 10 finalists of History Channel’s contest ‘Una Idea’. It also earned him a spot as a finalist in Titanes, an innovation and technology competition hosted by Caracol, a leading Colombian TV network.

"I was contacted by Professor Montoya's family. He was very excited and he said he was looking forward to trying the exoskeleton.  We are currently making adjustments to the device in order to adapt it to his needs," Luna said. 

"I didn't make any income when I started my business, so I had to sacrifice my free time in order to make extra money on the side," he recalls.  And he added “Things were not easy at first, but fortunately, Ruta N, a leading business incubator based in Medellín, helped me patent my invention”.

In addition to being the CEO of his own company and developing a groundbreaking invention, Freddy finds satisfaction in helping others. "it’s been very satisfying for me to have opportunity to help change the lives of paraplegics," he said.

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