Humotech Onboard, Vol 1(3) September, 2019

September 27, 2019 | By: Judy Fort Brenneman

A Slimmer, Tougher Ankle Exo

The New Caplex EXO-005

Bilateral, Low-Profile Ankle Exoskeletons (10M/11.5W Boots)

Caplex EXO-005 is our new lightweight, high-performance tethered ankle exoskeleton. Its sleeker, form-fitting design accommodates more dynamic movement so you can explore your research questions at higher speeds, over uneven terrain, or even outdoors! (Spoiler alert: portable Caplex coming soon!)

We developed the EXO-005 in response to customer feedback, combined with our own internal testing experience. We knew that it took some practice to walk gracefully with our first ankle exoskeleton (the EXO-001), even on the smooth, predictable surfaces of typical laboratory settings. We wanted an ankle exo that would be streamlined, intuitive to use, and suitable for challenging environments and surfaces.

The EXO-005 owes much of its sleekness to its lower torque output (50 Nm, compared to the EXO-001’s 180 Nm). This meets the requirements of most customers; for those who need higher torque output, the EXO-001 is still available. And since the Caplex system is modular, both ankle exoskeletons work with the same system; you can swap one out for the other.

The EXO-005 comes with a ready-to-use boot, but thanks to its unique reinforced midsole, it can work with any high-top, lace-up shoe without damaging the shoe’s functionality. The reinforced midsole is inserted between the outsole and the heel, then glued in place. The shank assembly bolts to the midsole on each side of the foot, and the shoe’s laces hold the upper part of the shank in place. Most of the shank assembly is located in the back of the shank, allowing for larger range of motion and accommodating any calf size. The included boot is heavier than the EXO-001’s running shoe, so the total weight of footwear plus exo is the same, but the streamlined integration of the exo into the boot makes for a smaller, lighter, and simpler exo.

The end result is a safe, stable ankle exoskeleton that’s easy to put on, move in, and remove.

We’re not saying you’ll be able to jump over buildings with the EXO-005, but it’ll go just about anywhere a standard combat boot can go.

For more information about the Caplex EXO-005, visit our website or call (412) 301-5082.

Customer Spotlight

How We Move: Philippe Malcolm and Kota Takahashi, University of Nebraska Omaha

What allows us to move efficiently? How do changes and disruptions in the way we move affect performance?

These questions underlie research from the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) laboratories of Dr. Philippe Malcolm and Dr. Kota Takahashi. UNO was Humotech’s first customer, in 2016.

Philippe Malcolm uses wearable robotics to study the biomechanics of walking. His team is interested in fundamental research that expands our understanding of biomechanics, in addition to assistive device optimization—although there is, of course, overlap. Humotech’s tools allow Philippe and his team to use biomechanical measurements to see what’s optimal and, from those measurements, improve a device. They also allow the opposite: to introduce changes during movement and capture data that reveal new information about human locomotion.

The metabolic cost of walking is typically estimated via respiratory oxygen consumption measurements. Accurate measurements require taking the average of the oxygen consumption measurements of several minutes of walking. But we know that walking is a cyclic movement, and different phases likely have higher and lower metabolic costs. With the Caplex system, Philippe’s team can conduct perturbation experiments that could ultimately lead to improved estimates of the metabolic costs of different phases of the gait cycle.

“This research builds on results from foundational perturbation studies with static devices from other groups,” Philippe says. “The fact that we can now apply perturbations with a robotic device allows experiments that were not possible before, because the system can be programmed to act during specific phases of the gait cycle.”

In addition to contributing to a better understanding of biomechanics, metabolic cost time profile estimations could someday be used in clinical or consumer settings, similar to the shift from the old static foot pressure measuring methods to the computerized systems used today, which show an individual’s foot pressure changes during the cycle. Detecting abnormally high metabolic cost during a specific part of a patient’s gait cycle could help diagnose the cause of a problem and lead to improved assistive devices or exercise therapies.

Using Humotech’s fore/aft force-controlled waist harness system to explore metabolic costs of different gait cycle phases in Philippe Malcolm’s lab.

Kota Takahashi is especially interested in foot and ankle biomechanics. His research examines mechanics, functionality, approaches, and applications to explore what in our anatomical structures allows us to move efficiently. As with Philippe’s work, there is always a combination of fundamental research—how does this particular element of human movement work?—and the application of that knowledge to assistive device design.

Kota’s team uses techniques such as ultrasound to directly observe healthy limbs and then uses that data to develop experiments with different parameters for prosthesis design. They program anatomical features of the foot and ankle into Humotech’s Caplex system, replicating them in the prosthesis platform. This enables them to target specific elements to change and test.

Caplex emulates the human function, then the team tweaks conditions slightly to see what difference the change makes and how the person wearing the device responds.

Data collection and subject feedback are both important. For example, in analyzing joint function, they measure energy expenditure and ask the subject if he or she prefers one type (or setting) over another. Through this process, Kota hopes to identify prosthesis features or parameters that could lead to multiple improvements—minimizing the person’s energy use and helping to identify the best prosthesis, for example.

Kota’s goal is to improve devices for transtibial amputees and to advance our understanding of ankle-foot biomechanics. “We can do all kinds of ‘what-if?’ questions with Humotech,” he explains. “What specific feature in the ankle is important for mobility? What if we test this one feature, which we can’t do with a healthy person, but we can do using the Caplex emulation? That leads to better prostheses, and it leads to a better understanding of normal limb biomechanics.”

Erica Hedrick, a member of Koto Takahashi’s team at UNO, presenting a study with the Caplex prosthesis unit, Rocky Mountain American Society of Biomechanics Conference, Estes Park, CO, April 2018

For more on UNO’s research, check out these abstracts from the recent ISB/ASB conference.

Effects of timing and magnitude of forward forces at the waist on the metabolic cost of walking, Prokopios Antonellis, Arash Mohammadzadeh Gonabadi, and Philippe Malcolm

Estimating the time profile of metabolic cost within the gait cycle during level and uphill walking, Arash Mohammadzadeh Gonabadi, Prokopios Antonellis, and Philippe Malcolm

Assistive mechanisms of (distal) ankle exoskeletons and a (proximal) robotic waist tether, Philippe Malcolm, Prokopios Antonellis, Arash M. Gonabadi, Samuel Galle, and Dirk De Clercq

The importance of ankle stiffness in minimizing metabolic cost during load carriage: A prosthetic emulator study, Erica A. Hedrick, Philippe Malcolm, Jason M. Wilken, and Kota Z. Takahashi

ISB/ASB 2019 Conference Highlights

Dr. Josh Caputo, Humotech’s founder, CEO and president, took a rare break from day-to-day business demands to attend the recent ISB/ASB 2019 conference in Calgary, Canada. “It was exciting and inspiring to see the work happening throughout our field,” he said, noting that in addition to presentations by several Humotech customers, Humotech has close ties to two of this year’s invited speakers: Dr. Steve Collins (previously at Carnegie Mellon University and now at Stanford University) was Dr. Caputo’s thesis advisor; and Dr. Karl Zelik (Vanderbilt University) was featured in the May 2019 Humotech Onboard Customer Spotlight.

Dr. Collins’s presentation, “Humans-in-the-Loop Optimization of Exoskeleton Assistance,” addressed the exoskeleton design challenges involved in determining what the device should do to assist a person, especially while they’re learning to use the device.

In his talk, “Wearable Assistive Technology: Outrageous Opportunities, Precarious Progress, and Shameless Stupidity” (the best session title!), Dr. Zelik reflected on his decade of research in biomechanics and wearable assistive technologies.

Dr. Caputo was also proud to be included as a coauthor on work presented by Karl Zelik and his team at Vanderbilt University, “Exploring Effects of Artificial Gastrocnemius on Persons with Transtibial Amputation Using a Powered Ankle Prosthesis” (David M. Ziemnicki, Josh Caputo, Matthew Yandell, Karl Zelik).

“To see colleagues and friends, to be part of discussions that last long after the final session every day—it’s not just enjoyable, it’s important,” Josh notes. “It forms the groundwork for next steps and progress to come, for us as a company, for our customers, and for the field as a whole.”

ISB/ASB 2019 presentations by Humotech customers included:

Exoskeletons Improve Walking Economy by Steering Muscle Dynamics, by Owen N. Beck, Richard W. Nuckols, and Gregory S. Sawicki

Optimizing a Passive Hip Exoskeleton for Balance on a Prosthetic Foot, by Pawel R. Golyski and Gregory S. Sawicki

Alternative Human-in-the-Loop Exoskeleton Assistance Strategies: Heuristic-Based Exoskeleton Control for Co-Adaptive Locomotor Assistance, by Rachel W. Jackson and Steve H. Collins

Hip Exoskeleton Emulator to Explore Spring-Like Assistance Strategies During Walking, by Benjamin A. Shafer, Pawel R. Golyski, Gregory S. Sawicki, and Aaron J. Young

Can Ankle Exoskeletons Reduce the Metabolic Cost of Older Adult Locomotion? by Lindsey Trejo, Jordyn Schroeder, and Gregory S. Sawicki

Exploring Effects of Artificial Gastrocnemius on Persons with Transtibial Amputation Using a Powered Ankle Prosthesis, by David M. Ziemnicki, Josh Caputo, Matthew Yandell, and Karl Zelik

Reports, Publications, Other Cool Stuff

Patent Number 10,350,092!
On July 16, 2019, the patent for our “tethered ankle-foot prosthesis emulator” —now known under its trademark name, Caplex—was officially published, marking a major milestone in a project that started for Josh Caputo and his team at Carnegie Mellon almost 10 years ago.

September’s Top Story in O&P Almanac:
Our own Dr. Josh Caputo, founder, president, and CEO of Humotech.
“Leveraging Robotics for O & P Solutions”

Robotics & Tech Week at Georgia Tech
New Humotech customer Greg Sawicki, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, shared a quick look at Georgia Institute of Technology’s Human Physiology of Wearable Robotics lab in honor of Tech Week in this NPR segment on WABE’s “Closer Look with Rose Scott.” Take a look (and a listen) here. (Click “Add to My List” to listen to this specific segment.)

Greg Sawicki in Georgia Tech’s PoWeR lab

Behind the Scenes at Humotech

Introducing Gabriel Forsythe y Korzeniewicz, Director of Customer Relations and Sales

Life’s path is rarely a straight line—something that Gabriel Forsythe y Korzeniewicz, Humotech’s Director of Customer Relations and Sales, knows first-hand. Serendipity, curiosity, and a fortuitous skill-set led him to our door.

Gabriel assumed he’d grow up to be an academic, just like his parents. Then, during his senior year in economics at Reed College, Portland, Oregon, he decided to attend a weekend hackathon for the fun of it. There, he connected with a group exploring a way to recognize emotions in voice, to help people who were on the autistic spectrum.

His interest wasn’t in the technical aspects—he readily admits he had no technical experience and at the time, wasn’t even interested in start-up ventures. What caught his attention was that they were striving to create a product that would benefit the disability community.

That was something he did have experience in. His brother has Down syndrome (also called trisomy 21), and he’d been deeply involved in the wider disability community for most of his life. “I never had a strong attachment to any particular aspect of the disability community,” Gabriel says. “My brother and I were part of a theatre group that included people with cognitive and physical disabilities, so I understood early on that these communities are overlapping. They’re defined by heterogeneity.”

By the end of that first hackathon, the team he’d connected with had won a place in the Portland Seed Fund, and Gabriel had a job waiting for him upon graduation. He led the start-up’s non-technical side and discovered a deep interest in marketing, sales, and business operations. He gained more sales experience with another Portland start-up, then took an extended road trip with a friend who was touring an art show, eventually finding his way back to his hometown, Washington, DC, where he joined United Cerebral Palsy. He headed up UCP’s program supporting entrepreneurs who were disabled, who were developing products for those who were disabled, or both. The support included hackathons nationwide, including one in Pittsburgh. He enjoyed his first visit to Pittsburgh so much that he kept returning for fun, and eventually relocated here.

Gabriel has in-depth understanding of the sales process for complex systems, from both sides of the table. “The immediate need people have for Humotech’s products is to know how to think about the system and how it fits into the larger vision. I have to be sensitive to the time, resources, and mental energy researchers must spend. A big part of my job is keeping things as simple and straightforward as possible, so they’ll know what kinds of decisions they need to consider, and when.”

Gabriel notes that he’s seen a lot of cool tech with good intentions that never found a way to work for the people who need it, whether in research or personal applications. Humotech is different, he says. “Humotech is intimately aware of customer needs, and integrates those needs seamlessly. I really like the part of our mission that brings real testability to this field, making sure that people are receiving high quality technology that makes their lives better.”

Gabriel is committed to the wider applications possible with Caplex, too. “The questions about the future of work—these are questions that the disability community has tackled for years: how, where, what accommodations, and more. Humotech is a perfect example of where technology will have positive effects for the disability community, and from there, will branch out of that community, expanding how we think about the human body and how it works.

Interested in learning more? Contact Gabriel at [email protected] or (412) 301-5082.

Look for Us!
Josh Caputo’s travels are taking him across the country this fall.

Driving the Waves of Change

2019 National Assembly, American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association & the California Orthotics and Prosthetics Association
September 25-28, 2019
San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, CA.

If you’re interested in hearing more about how Humotech’s Caplex system can help you “Design—Test—Then Build,” call (412-301-5082) or email to set up a time to talk. We want to know how we can help you in your work!

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