Thinking about every single step as you walk? Who does that? Most of us take the ability to walk for granted. For Matthias, however, it’s a task requiring great concentration and effort, because he suffers from the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis (MS). Nevertheless, he always has a goal to strive toward – to get up the 135 steps to his vacation home in southern Switzerland without being “totally wrecked” afterwards. So, once a week, the 56-year-old Matthias trains with the Myosuit.
Mobility despite weak muscles
The Myosuit is an exoskeleton for people who need extra strength and support in everyday life. It is a training device for people with movement restrictions in their legs, resulting from an accident, a chronic disease such as MS, or age-related muscle weakness. A certain degree of residual muscle function is a prerequisite for using this soft exoskeleton, which was developed by Zurich-based startup MyoSwiss. “Everyone should have the privilege of being able to move freely and without restriction, because movement is central to life and crucial for independence and quality of life.” This is the company’s guiding principle, according to CEO and co-founder Jaime Duarte.
An “e-bike” for the legs
Sitting down, standing up, walking, and climbing stairs all become much easier with the Myosuit. The exoskeleton provides localized support and strength in the hip area and in the legs – only ever as much as the wearer needs in certain situations, such as standing up. “Patients have more stamina because of the electronic reinforcement of their muscles. It works a bit like an e-bike for the legs,” explained Gleb Koginov, senior mechanical engineer at MyoSwiss.
The Myosuit, which weighs only 5.7 kilograms, is placed on the hips and legs, over normal clothing. The two electric motors and the control are housed in a small backpack. They use cables and passive elements to support flexion and extension of the hip joint and knee joints. The intensity and sequence of the electrical support is controlled with the help of motion sensors on the torso and legs.
Powerful drives for strong legs
“For our exoskeletons, we need compact, quiet drives and motor controllers which can be integrated directly into the device, and have high energy efficiency and power density,” said Koginov. These requirements are met by the drive combination of BLDC motor EC-i 40 and GP 42 C gearhead plus maxon’s EPOS4 Module 50/8 digital motor controller. The brushless DC-motor EC-i40 is the world champion when it comes to dynamics and high torque in tight spaces. Jaime Duarte said, “For us, maxon simply has the best and most powerful motors we have found on the market. In addition, the support from the local engineers is very professional.”
Vision of an everyday exoskeleton
The MedTech company MyoSwiss grew out of an ETH spin-off in 2017. The team, which now has twelve members, is comprised of young engineers, designers, and medical specialists. They work on further development of the Myosuit every day. It is already being used in rehab centers and hospitals in Switzerland and Germany. The goal that Jaime Duarte and his team have set themselves is high: “An exoskeleton that can be worn every day just like a shirt or pants.”
Until that time comes, Matthias keeps training. He is making progress: He can now get up the stairs to his vacation home without taking a break. He is less out of breath and in better shape. “I still have to catch my breath at the top, but who doesn’t after 135 steps?”
“Running the Joggathlon with the Myosuit”
Matthias was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1997. The first few years were not very difficult, but then his ability to walk deteriorated more and more. For him, this was no reason to give up his love of exercise and nature. That’s why he’s been training with the Myosuit for about two years.
How did you find out about MyoSwiss?
About two years ago, MyoSwiss presented the Myosuit at my multiple sclerosis support group. I tried it out right there, and walked dozens of times around the table. My legs felt very light afterwards. That was something special, because my disease usually makes them very heavy. That effect of “light legs” lasted a long time. At that point I knew right away that I wanted to be a tester for MyoSwiss.
How does the Myosuit make your life easier?
It increases my quality of life and maintains it at a certain level. It supports me in movements that are otherwise fairly difficult for me. What I lose through MS, I can restore through training with the Myosuit, at least for a certain time.
What is the furthest distance you have gone so far?
After the strength, endurance, and balance exercises with the Myosuit, I was able to run 1.8 kilometers with the Myosuit at the Joggathlon in Zurich in 2019. I made the finish line in 2.5 hours – I had sore muscles the next day but I was only slightly exhausted. A fantastic feeling!
Author: Anja Wieder