Exoskeletons used to be the stuff of dreams, where my first exposure to an exoskeleton was when Ellen Ripley went mano a mano with the Alien Queen. Over the years, however, technology has advanced to such a degree that it might feature in our day-to-day lives. After all, one can already rent the Honda Walking Assist Exoskeleton in Japan, and for four-year old Hannah Mohn, it is a robot exoskeleton that has literally given her a new lease of life, enabling this little girl to lift her arms when she was previously unable to do so.
The reason behind Hannah’s weak arms was due to being born with neuromuscular disease arthrogryposis, where this condition makes her joints curve and muscles extremely weak. When Hannah was born, her pediatrician advised her parents to make sure that Hannah will make use of her hands most of the time so that she will be more independent as she grows older.
When Hannah was 18 months old, she dropped by the Dupont Children’s Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, and starting to make use of the “WREX” exoskeleton – which are basically robotic arms that were developed from 3-D printing. WREX is the acronym for Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton, and it relies on special elastic bands in order to provide a child’s arm a weightless feeling. 3D printing plays a big role in the WREX’s development, since a full set of plastic parts for a pair of WREXs can be printed overnight, now how about that for speed?
Needless to say, WREX has assisted in helping Hannah move, even when she is not using it. It has enabled Hannah to gain muscle strength in her arms that she did not have before. The precision of 3D printing allows WREX to be customized for individual patients, and that is the whole beauty of it.