Spanish scientists have launched a bid to develop the first bionic exoskeleton that will allow wheelchair bound children to take their first steps – and they are using crowdfunding to do it.
Marsi-bionics is a start-up company born of Spanish public research that now needs to secure private funding to take its prototype to market.
The Spanish researchers have developed a prototype portable robot designed exclusively for children who have never taken their first steps.
On Wednesday it launched a crowdfunding campaign in the hope of being able to raise an initial €150,000 ($166,000) with people invited to donate between €10 and €100.
The project came about by chance after Elena García, a chief researcher at the state-funded Center for Scientific Research (CSIC) was approached by the parents of a six-year old girl named Daniela.
At the time García was working on a project to develop walking robots to increase the strength of workers in heavy industry. But when she met Daniela, a quadriplegic following a car accident in infancy and condemned to a life in a wheelchair, her research took a different turn.
As a result of that meeting she began developing a prototype robot specifically for use by children. Three years later and García had developed the Atlas 2020, a bionic exoskeleton that was light enough and responsive enough to allow Daniela to take her first ever steps.
Daniela walking with the aid of the Atlas 2020 in August 2014 Photo: Marsi-bionics
Now the company wants to further develop the robot to grow and adapt with its wearer and give other children like Daniela the chance to find their feet.
“We have the doctors who want it and the patients who need it, but as usual, we lack the money,” explained García in an interview with El País earlier this year.
“One percent of world population has walking disabilities with 18 million in Europe. Only robotics can help them work again,” said Nacho Barraqué, the CEO and co-founder of Marsi-bionics.
“15 percent of that figure are children with genetic degenerative neuromuscular diseases or cerebal palsy that force them to move around using a wheelchair,” he explains in a video clip on the company website.
But with the cost of development of their robot extending beyond public research funds they have had to turn to alternative mechanisms and that includes crowdfunding, the practice of funding a project or venture by raising monetary contributions from a large number of people, typically via the internet.
“If you've ever wanted to be an active part of a technologically disruptive project of high social impact and benefit from a great international impact, this is your chance,” reads their crowdfunding bid.
“You also have the added opportunity to be partner in the project and benefit economically from its results. To make this possible we have launched this crowdfunding campaign.”
So, for as little as €10 they are offering the public the chance to play a part in bringing children out of wheelchairs and onto their own two feet.