Everyday tasks like grocery shopping can be exceedingly difficult for those who have experienced a
spinal cord injury and are confined to a
One innovation that can help this
patient population is Indego Personal,
an exoskeleton developed by Vanderbilt
University researchers. The technology
is significantly lighter than competing
exoskeletons and its five pieces can be
assembled independently by the user in
minutes, even while they are seated in a
wheelchair. The exoskeleton was a 2018
R&D 100 Award winner.
Michael Goldfarb, PhD, the H.
Fort Flowers Professor of Mechanical
Engineering at Vanderbilt, explained
in an exclusive interview with R&D
Magazine that providing independence
was key when creating the 26-pound
“I think it is the first and only
exoskeleton that we’ve really designed
with the idea of being able to use it
independently,” Goldfarb said. “The
name Indego is supposed to cover the
idea of independence and also just being
able to get up and go.”
The technology can be utilized as both
an assistive and therapeutic device.
The amount of robotic assistance
adjusts automatically for users who
have some control in their leg muscles,
allowing them to use their own muscles
to walk if possible. When a user is
completely paralyzed, the exoskeleton
does all the work.
“Somebody who has complete
paralysis and is not going to recover
the ability to walk, for them it is an
assistive device,” Goldfarb said. “They
have limited function and the idea is
to provide function for them that they
don’t have. For a different set of people,
who do have the ability to recover, it
is intended to be a therapeutic device
where they could use it regularly and
actually improve their functionality
and for some sets of people to improve
it enough to not require the device
Another unique feature of the
design is that it incorporates functional
electrical stimulation, where small
electrical pulses are applied to paralyzed
muscles to cause them to contract
and relax. This is known to improve
circulation, change bone density and
reduce muscle atrophy.
Each piece of the Indego exoskeleton
comes in three different sizes: large,
Indego represents 10 years of research
after an initial grant from the National
Institute of Child Health and Human
Development jumpstarted the project.
The Parker Hannifin Corporation
purchased the exclusive license to
market the design and commercialize
the technology in 2012 and in 2016,
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
approved the design for sale.
More information on the exoskeleton
can be found at Indego.com.
Lightweight Exoskeleton Provides Independent
Mobility for Disabled Population
By Kenny Walter, Science Reporter
A patient using the Indego exoskeleton.