Irish scientist developes robotic suit to overcome disability

‘Soft’ design means device helps independent walking and retrains muscles and joints

A volunteer using the “soft” robot device that can help help stroke patients to walk again

A volunteer using the “soft” robot device that can help help stroke patients to walk again

 

An Irish bioengineer has won an international prize for developing a robotic suit to help stroke patients walk again.

Prof Conor Walsh of Harvard University was one of five individuals to win an enterprise award for research, sponsored by watch manufacturer Rolex. The award includes a cash prize of €97,000.

Prof Walsh (35) is a mechanical and biomedical engineer who completed his primary degree in 2003 at Trinity College Dublin, before going on to complete masters and PhD degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the founder of the Harvard Biodesign Lab, a centre that designs “soft” robotic technologies to help augment and restore human performance.

The international award is for Prof Walsh’s work countering mobility problems that can arise for those who have had a stroke.

About a third of people who have a stroke must learn to walk again, a slow and painful process. Prof Walsh’s wearable robotic suit is flexible, can be worn under clothing and helps the patient learn to walk again without assistance. It supports independent walking and also retrains damaged nerves, muscles, tendons and joints to work together again.

Patients

Prof Walsh will use the cash prize “to further connect to patients around the world and make it clear to them what we are doing to see if they want to get involved”.

He praised the awards that highlight important international research projects with the potential to help people and support the natural environment.

Prof Walsh was one of five to receive a Rolex award for enterprise in a ceremony that took place on Tuesday in Los Angels. And for the first year in the programme’s 40-year history, the company also announced five enterprise awards for younger researchers .

The 10 winners were shortlisted from among 2,322 applicants from 144 nationalities. Laureates each receive €97,000, while young laureates receive €48,500. They all also receive a Rolex watch.

The awards were introduced 40 years ago to mark the 50th anniversary of the first waterproof watch, the Rolex Oyster.