Humans have endo-skeletons, an internal skeleton, while some animals have an exo-skeleton which is an external skeleton. We sometimes see sci-fi powered exoskeletons killing machines in films like Alien, The Matrix, Iron Man, but less fictional are emerging exoskeletons that are meant to augment the human body. These are used for military, commercial, and personal purposes allowing people to work longer and carry heavier loads. More excitingly are exoskeletons that are designed to help people who lost, or were born without, capabilities that the rest of us take for granted like walking.
Thankfully we are increasingly aware of needing to create inclusive spaces and infrastructure that aren’t strictly designed for a particular baseline of ability. But infrastructure takes a long time to re-design and adapt. So alongside that we should develop technologies that empower and liberate people with a variety of abilities to perform common tasks without the need for help or special consideration.
While we’re quickly able to imagine what an exoskeleton may look like mechanically, it’s less obvious what electronics are required in such a system. To understand more about that I’ve been in touch with Project MARCH, an ongoing student project at Delft University. The project aims to help those with complete spinal cord injury — a permanent and incurable condition — with immobility below breast level but with full control of the arms. The MARCH V exoskeleton is the latest iteration, with a new team of 26 students has already started working on the next one, MARCH VI. I’ve spoken with electrical engineers Mart Haarman and Robbert Friendwijk, and Julie Blijdenstein who is part of the partnerships and public relations team.