The idea to develop his invention came after meeting a girl named Daniela who had been paralyzed after suffering a traffic accident. The exoskeleton allows children in wheelchairs to walk during rehabilitation sessions and reduces muscle breakdown and medical complications.
The work of this industrial engineer, researcher at the Center for Automation and Robotics (CAR) at CSIC and co-founder of the company Bionic Marsi It has been cited in more than 2,600 authorized publications. He set out to develop the world’s first adjustable exoskeleton for children after learning there was no such solution, a decision that has the potential to improve the life expectancy and mental well-being of millions of young patients.
“By leveraging his vast experience in robotics and adjustable joints, Garcia Armada has developed a unique exoskeleton for children and solved a problem in the medical device industry,” says OEP President, Antonio Campinos. “His invention doesn’t just improve the health and well-being of children in wheelchairs by lifting them on their feet. It also offers new hope to families and caregivers who have been waiting for such a device for many years.”
Her research placed her as one of three finalists for the search category for the European Inventor Award, which recognizes inventions based on advances in cutting-edge science. The winners of the 2022 edition of the European Inventor Award will be announced in a virtual ceremony on June 21.
Until 2009, García Armada’s research focused on exoskeletons for workers in heavy industry. After meeting Daniela, he shifted his focus to pediatric care. He was surprised to find that while technology had helped adults walk since the 1960s, there was no adaptable exoskeletons for children. Younger wheelchair users are at greater risk of muscle breakdown at an early age and spinal deformities, affecting the lungs and heart, thus shortening their lifespan.
“When I looked at the numbers and found that 17 million families were facing this grim picture and there was no solution in sight, I realized that I had to solve the problem alone,” says the researcher.
García Armada decided to develop pediatric exoskeletons and work on a solution: an adjustable titanium suit connected to a battery and a network of small motors with sensors, software and machinery. These components work as mechanical joints that adapt to the body and amplify the smooth movements, adapting to the movement of each child as the rehabilitation progresses, allowing a personalized treatment. The exoskeleton can be fitted to a child, usually between the ages of 3 and 10, in less than 8 minutes, allowing them to walk during muscle rehabilitation sessions.
Children able to walk for the first time in their lives
In 2013, García Armada performed his first tests with Daniela, whose face lit up when she started to walk on the exoskeleton. Several children were also able to walk for the first time in their lives, with some parents reporting improvements in mental well-being of your kids. Other patients did better in school and became more sociable. “My invention is more than just a medical device,” she emphasizes.
After images showing Daniela walking went viral, this expert was inundated with requests to help families around the world. He founded Marsi Bionics and began industrializing prototypes, following the International Medical Devices Directive, and conducting clinical trials. In 2013, he applied for his first patent for elastic actuators, joints with adjustable firmness that respond to subtle muscle movements. A year later, he applied for a second patent for an exoskeleton that can be adapted to different medical conditions and physical properties of the body.
So she decided to improve access to her exoskeleton by licensing her invention to a manufacturer, but during its development she realized it was faster to commercialize the exoskeleton herself. “When we industrialized and clinically tested the invention, we no longer needed to license it. We could sell it ourselves,” he says.
Patents were vital to increasing investment. Without them, there would be no way to hire the talent needed to bring the invention to market.
In the following years, García Armada commercialized two of his patented inventions. “Patents were vital to increasing investment. Without patents, there would be no way to recruit the talent needed to bring the invention to market.
Since then, Marsi Bionics has grown to 25 employees, while Elena García Armada’s pediatric exoskeleton is already in use in rehabilitation centers and hospitals in the EU and Mexico. Analysts have valued the exoskeleton market at €430 million in 2021 and project growth of €2.8 billion by 2026.
Spanish chemist and materials engineer Nuria Espallargas is another of the finalists. / European Patent Office
Another Spaniard among the finalists
The Spanish chemist and materials engineer and university professor Nuria Espallargastogether with Indonesian materials scientist and senior university professor fahmi mubarokwere jointly nominated for the European Inventor Award 2022 for a new process that allows ceramic materials that lack melting point at high temperatures, to be projected in industrial components.
These innovative thermal spray ceramic coatings are designed to extend the life of components used in various industrial applications, better protecting them from wear and tear and chemical exposure. The first industrial uses are expected to be in parking brakes. automobiles or trainstools and equipment for glass making, equipment used for the metal extractionand in an upcoming project with the European Space Agency, which will test how these coatings can resist abrasion to sand from the Moon and Mars.