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Project MARCH is a student team of TU Delft that designs and builds an exoskeleton, a robotic suit, for someone with a spinal cord injury so that he can stand up and walk again. Project MARCH consists of 26 driven and motivated students who put their study on hold for a whole year. Our 27th most important team member is our pilot Koen, who has a spinal cord injury. We design the exoskeleton in co-creation together with him.

Project MARCH believes that technology can improve the quality of life of people with paraplegia. Not only does the exoskeleton provide great mental benefits by making sure that someone can stand up again at eye level, but it also provides physical benefits. Strengthening of the muscles, a better blood circulation, improved bladder and intestinal function and also a reduction of nerve pain, are benefits that are experienced by walking in an exoskeleton.

At the beginning of September 2020, Project MARCH VI started. As our year is different than the previous MARCH years due to corona, we decided to change things up a little bit. Previous teams had as end goal the Cybathlon, the bionic games. Here they competed in the powered exoskeleton race and had to complete 6 obstacles based on daily live as fast as possible. Our new team is accompanied by a new goal. We want to take the next step in the exoskeleton technology and make the exoskeleton ready for daily use. In August 2021, we want to walk around Delft in a dynamic way with our exoskeleton and pilot. By dynamic we mean with the use of pressure soles and depth camera’s so the exoskeleton can react to the environment.

A big change this year is that our exoskeleton, the MARCH VI, will have a bigger battery. In respect to making the exoskeleton ready for daily use. We found it necessary to enhance the walking time. In addition, we are using a different, larger, motor controller which has to be carried in the backpack of the exoskeleton along with two newly added cameras and a larger master computer. The challenge here is that we have to design very compact and therefore we are working very closely with our design engineer.

For communication purposes and power distribution we use custom designed Printed Circuit Boards which are built and assembled by Eurocircuits. We will cover the basics of these PCB’s.

Power Distribution Board

All power supplied by our battery runs through our Power distribution board (PDB). This board will keep one set of four power connectors at the supply voltage with the option to be turned off. There is also a conversion present to 12V, 5V and 3.3V for supplying power to components on the board itself and the master computer, fans and some communication boards in the feet of our exoskeleton. The distribution board is connected in our communication train that runs over EtherCAT. A microcontroller is fitted on the board and connected to a LAN9252 chip which covers the EtherCAT communication. It sends all power data to our master computer. What was prepared in the previous years will now also be used in the new design which is communication with the battery management system. This means that we can also collect data from our power source such as power use, battery status but also temperature information for safety purposes.

Power Distribution Board Project March VI
Power Distribution Board of March VI

General EtherCAT Slaves

Some of the components in our exoskeleton do not work on EtherCAT by default, take the pressure soles in our feet, the motor controllers we use for our motors and the PDB. The PDB has been covered as mentioned above. For the pressure soles in the feet we use a pre-built board for communication but our own shield with connectors and an Analogue-to-digital-converter is fitted on top. This shield has already been built in previous years but our team has updated this board slightly to a version two which is also sent to Eurocircuits. For our motor controllers we made a full communication shield with EtherCAT connectors and connectors for our sensors and motor-encoders. Along with the PDB this is one of the most advanced builds for the electrical team this year.

All our designs this year will have a focus on EMC design. Our partners helped us a lot in this process and we used the defined impedance pool that is offered by Eurocircuits to calculate the right board built-up. As a nice touch, all our boards are fitted with a black coating for a great look in our exoskeleton. A big thanks to Eurocircuits for their support this year!

Since the start of our year, we worked really hard. With help from Eurocircuits, our design for the new exoskeleton in PROJECT MARCH VI is finally ready!

Project March Logo

For more information about Project March VI, please visit our website Project March

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