It all started with an arm exoskeleton — an impressive structure designed by Michał Mikulski, a young engineer from Gliwice, as part of his diploma thesis. Its purpose? Not to provide the wearer with superhuman strength. Instead, this breakthrough Polish invention could help orthopaedic and neurological patients with muscle disorder therapy.
Exoskeletons are usually associated with visionary designs for soldiers of the future, which military research and development agencies, including the famous U.S. DARPA, have been working on for years. However, exoskeletons can also be very useful in rehabilitation, and it was this idea that inspired Michał Mikulski to build his robotic arm.
He wanted to help people whose muscles are too weak to even lift a glass to their lips.
The exoskeleton proved to be so successful that the inventor decided to start a company to continue developing the project. As a startup, EGZOTech has received many accolades, and the doctoral student at Silesian University of Technology in Gliwice has also attracted interest from Japan and Silicon Valley. After the success of his arm exoskeleton, Mikulski turned his attention to a a more advanced version.
His previous experience allowed him to start working on the most advanced project in the history of the EGZOTech company: the Luna EMG rehabilitation robot. At the time of its release, the first non-commercial version of the device was the world’s first robot to help people suffering from neuromuscular diseases.
The machine performs electromyography (EMG) and even allows people with advanced muscular atrophy to exercise, using a range of interchangeable extensions that work the major joints. See it put through its paces in the video below.
Muscular atrophy is a very harmful condition. Over time, Duchenne muscular dystrophy can not only render movement impossible, but can also lead to death, usually as a result of respiratory or cardiac failure. Exercises performed with the Luna EMG robot can slow down the process of muscular dystrophy and allow the patient to maintain their mobility for longer.
The Luna EMG robot will also be valuable for the physical recovery of accident victims with muscular atrophy, as well as patients with neurological disorders suffering from muscle atrophy, muscle weakness, or limb paresis.
It might not look that advanced, but the Luna EMG robot is a technological marvel. It is crammed with force sensors and equipped with a six-channel electromyograph to monitor muscle activity. Its operation is controlled by more than a dozen microprocessors and it supports the rehabilitation of shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, wrist and ankle joints.
There are also a number of interchangeable add-ons available, including a steering wheel designed for the rehabilitation of drivers.
To make recovery faster and more enjoyable—especially for younger patients—rehabilitation exercises can take the form of computer games. These include steering a spacecraft to avoid asteroids, or aligning balls in a row.
“A physiotherapist will be able to use this robot to provide care for a large number of patients,” explains Mikulski, who also understands that, currently, the biggest obstacle in obtaining access to therapy is the lack of qualified physical therapists.
For his work on Luna EMG, Michał Mikulski was recently awarded a distinction in Innovators Under 35, a prestigious competition organized by MIT Technology Review.
By verdict of an international jury, not only did he qualify as one of the top ten finalists, but he was also awarded the title of 2015 Social Innovator. Watch Mikulski give a talk on the robotic revolution in healthcare in the video below.