Honda has come up with yet another futuristic, lazy-human tool. After producing the world’s only humanoid robot, ASIMO, that has the freedom of mobility and can climb stairs, they’ve developed two separate devices to help actual humans walk a little easier. Let’s take a closer look…
Overview: 1) Body Weight Support Assist – powered exoskeleton aimed at supporting bodyweight to reduce the load on an individual’s legs while walking, negotiating stairs, and crouching.
2) Stride Management – powered exoskeleton affecting only the hips
Intended Use: 1) designed for people who can already walk, but would benefit from additional support while performing daily tasks 2) for users who require a little assistance in maintaining a functional gait speed, especially over longer distances
Purpose: to ease strain on the body; to improve worker efficiency in large factories; provide tourists/tour groups an ability to tolerate long walking distances and long periods of time on their feet
Release date: Currently no date published by Honda for release, as they are still performing real-world testing
Cost: No cost has been published but Honda has been quoted as saying the devices will be “reasonably affordable”.
My Take: The Honda Walk Assist (both the bodyweight support and stride management systems) appears less for rehabilitating mobility related injuries/diseases and more for reducing the strain of performing repetitive bodyweight activities. The bodyweight support version weighs a mere 14lbs and supports its own weight. The battery lasts 2 hours on a full charge, and in watching multiple videos on the web, the system appears very dynamic. The seat (similar to a bicycle seat) moves with the user’s pelvis during all phases of gait.
Many would assume that because the device just helps support bodyweight that it would have limited benefit in therapy. While I agree that the Walk Assist is not something that will become a mainstream gait training device (as you can see in the video the gait pattern looks awkward….this may be due to the fact it likely crushes the user’s genitals), I feel it would work as a therapeutic device given the right environment and instruction.
The mere fact that it supports bodyweight tells me that therapists would be able to have already ambulating (walking) clients work on different aspects of gait, such as stride length, weight shift, trunk stability, etc., without worry of fatiguing too quickly.
I personally can think of several of my own clients that would like to try the stride management system to assist in their daily walking. Many people multiple sclerosis and other neurological conditions have issues with fatigue from minimal to moderate amounts of daily activity. If this device can reduce energy expenditure, people these conditions will be ready with their wallets.
To date, because both Walk Assist devices have yet to hit the commercial market, it is difficult to give a final recommendation as to their possible integration in therapy settings. There are many other ways to reduce bodyweight on the legs to enhance therapy, yet this device has several possible uses beyond the clinic. Honda has proven itself a leader in robotic design, and I expect that they will be able to improve on this initial prototype and produce a product that will not only look more comfortable, but provide therapeutic gait training while its user simply goes about his or her daily routine.