Designed to allow people who are paralyzed to walk again, over 40 Cal Poly students came together to create LLEAP— or the Lower Limb Exoskeleton Assistance Project.
Biomedical engineering senior and CEO of LLEAP, Christie Altamura, leads the largest biomedical engineering project on campus into leaping the project forward.
The team started the research phase of the project in 2019, but was set back due to COVID-19 regulations. Once restrictions were lifted, the team built their first leg prototype. Now, teams are expanding on the device.
Altamura says that exoskeletons are very novel devices… given that “there’s a lot of different applications, but one of them is getting people in wheelchairs who have no function of their lower body or some of their upper body to walk again.” When it comes to finding potential users for the prototype, there are certain requirements people must meet. Altamura said “the first person to be testing your suit” should be someone with previous experience using an exoskeleton.
Through the Cal Poly Empower Student Association, numerous students are bringing LLEAP to life. The project is broken down into five main groups– prototyping, mechatronics, software and simulation, sensing and UI and clinical. Each division coordinates with one another, focusing on different elements of the device, from building to programming.
Biomedical engineering senior and COO of LLEAP, Max Lewter, assists Altamura with organizing meetings, financial work and coordinating with Empower.
Lewter shares his love for LLEAP, claiming that the project has given him “the ability to get hands-on and apply the theories [he] learned in class and to actually practical applications.”
In his four years working with LLEAP, Lewter has participated in both the electronic and software elements of the project, including coding and simulation.
When it comes to learning the techniques necessary for the project, Lewter finds that his electrical engineering and computer science classes at Cal Poly have helped him develop his skill set.
“[My classes] have really helped me to prepare for working on the coding and simulation side of this project,” Lewter said.
Unlike current exoskeletons on the market, Altamura says that LLEAP strives to help individuals with higher level injuries than today’s devices support.
“The highest level of injury that one of the companies does is a C-8 incomplete injury, so our hope is to use the exoskeleton for someone who has like a higher level injury,” Altamura said.
Altamura said that an incomplete injury to the C-8 spinal nerve generally results in a loss of function in the lower body, but not the arms.
Beyond bringing the exoskeleton to life, LLEAP will be made more accessible in the process.
“Exoskeletons currently aren’t very widely used, because they’re super expensive, like $60,000 to purchase. There’s not a ton of prototypes,” Altamura said.
While the limited budget may provide obstacles for creating the project, Altamura finds the silver lining.
“In a way, we’re trying to make exoskeletons more accessible by kind of having a smaller budget and being able to build off of that,” Altamura said.
LLEAP expects to complete all hardware prototyping this year, with their goal to start and finish testing by 2024.
For more information on the project, visit https://lleapexo.wixsite.com.