Yaskawa Electric, Kitakyushu, Japan, has developed the Ankle Walking Assist Device (AWAD), an exoskeleton orthosis that enhances dorsiflexion and plantarflexion through ankle support and energy return for those with gait impediments or ankle weakness.
The user attaches a battery pack at the waist that connects to the orthosis, which can then sense heel contact with the ground and return energy for forward motion. When the individual starts to walk, dorsiflexion assistance acts to expand the gastrocnemius muscle, causing reflexive muscle contraction. This reflexive muscle contraction links the movements of the user’s knees and hips, allowing for a smooth start.
The device was developed in a collaborative research effort with Shibaura Institute of Technology, Tokyo, Japan; Hiroshima University, Japan; and Space Bio-Laboratories, Hiroshima. Yaskawa plans to continue research efforts and collect clinical results about the AWAD’s effectiveness. The company has plans to market the device commercially in 2015.