In November 2012, Parker Hannifin Corporation received a license for Indego, an exoskeleton developed through a collaboration between Vanderbilt University engineering and mechatronics lab and Shepherd Center, a leading hospital for spinal cord injuries in Atlanta. Since then, Parker Hannifin has worked on developing a team to commercialize Indego, as well as build a business unit around the theme of human motion and control.
“Indego is a wearable powered robotic device,” Achilleas Dorotheou, head of the human motion & control business unit and vice president of business development at Parker Hannifin, Cleveland, told O&P Business News. “It has a hip piece that wraps around the back of the patient’s waist, upper leg segments which attach to the thighs, and lower leg segments that attach to the shanks. It has motors at each joint and has a host of sensors that detect the patient’s posture and controllers that interpret the intent of the patient based on their posture.”
Indego interacts with the patient through gentle vibrations. If a patient leans forward while sitting, the device will vibrate, and if they hold the position, the device will interpret it as a signal to lift them into standing mode. When in standing mode, if the patient leans forward, the device will vibrate before helping them move forward and if the patient leans back the device will stop.
Its weight sets Indego apart from other exoskeletons. It is half the weight of other exoskeletons, which can weigh 50 pounds or more. The modular design breaks down into five segments and uses quick connections so the patient can assemble it themselves. With a slim profile, Indego can fit into small wheelchairs used by paraplegics.
“[The fact that] it can be worn in the small-solid frame wheelchairs that paraplegics often use explains why we named it Indego, because we think the kind of independence that it gives the patient is really unparalleled out there,” Dorotheou said.
During the past 2 years, Parker Hannifin has been quietly developing the second generation of Indego, which will be pilot tested at Shepherd Center in the next few months before undergoing clinical trials in several leading rehab centers in the United States.
“The difference between generation one and generation two is that generation two has been refined to be both a commercial and personal product,” Dorotheou said.
Along with commercially hardened hardware and software, the Generation 2 Indego is slimmer and has a removable, rechargeable battery. The researchers have also optimized the quick-connections between the modular segments so the patient can assemble the device quickly and without assistance. Bluetooth functionality allows the physical therapist to adjust the device wirelessly through a custom-developed Indego App.
“In the future we also intend to include functional electrical stimulation as an option with the device,” Dorotheou said. “Basically, it accelerates recovery of therapy in every dimension, but until now it has not been implemented in these kinds of devices.”
Dorotheou and colleagues are going through the regulatory process for Europe and are expecting to receive approval by the end of 2014 and to begin marketing there in early 2015. The group also expects to receive approval from the FDA in 2016.
According to Dorotheou, the Indego exoskeleton is just the first step for Parker Hannifin, which intends to continue working on advancing orthotics, prosthetics and other neurorehabilitation technologies.
Parker Hannifin has formed collaborations with other companies, as well as a pipeline of investments that they will start announcing within the next few months. The company looks to move the O&P industry forward by investing in devices and businesses that include sensor and battery technologies.
Dorotheou said the company is well-positioned to be an industry leader in the startup space. One way the company hopes to achieve this is by performing meaningful clinical trials on important developments.
“Clinical trials are expensive and nobody has conducted formal, sponsored clinical trials [on exoskeletons] like we are. We do this because we’d like to kickstart the discovery of formal evidence behind [exoskeletons] that convince the clinicians and, equally important, the payers and administrators that these devices have real clinical and economic benefits,” Dorotheou said. — by Casey Tingle
Disclosure: Dorotheou is employed by Parker Hannifin.