High School Robotics Club Creates 3D Printed Exoskeleton For Kids with Cerebral Palsy

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Simonoff trying on his 3D printed exoskeleton.

Simonoff trying on his 3D printed exoskeleton.

When I sit down and think of where humanity is going, I see a world afflicted by wars, religious intolerance, and political unrest. There are terrible things going on all around the globe, and if you frequently watch the news, surely the top stories from the past months have probably been surrounding the terrorist group ISIS, and the vicious beatings of wives and kids by NFL superstars. The world isn’t a bleak place though, at least not everywhere, all the time, like mainstream media seems to make us believe. Humanity has a way of focusing on the negatives while ignoring all the great things going on around them.

3D printing has been the focus of a lot of charity work as of late. We’ve seen numerous volunteers from groups like e-NABLE spend their own time and money creating 3D printed prosthetic hands and arms for children in need. We have seen 3D printing utilized by MyMiniFactory and Oxfam in order to solve water hygiene problems in Lebanon. The list really goes on and on, and over the past year or so that I’ve been covering this incredible technology, I have had the opportunity to see that humans do in fact care about one another.

For one student, named Joel Simonoff, and his fellow classmates (Jake Mattinson, Sabir Muhammad, Travis Wight, Collin Taylor, Abhe Murthy, Adhikara Budhyhartono, Sidney Son, Ariana Levitt & Adam Howitt) in the Granada Hills High School robotics club, an opportunity presented itself and club members responded in quite a phenomenal way.

The Robot Walker Prototype

The Robot Walker Prototype

Those of you unfamiliar with Cerebral Palsy, it is a disorder that affects approximately 10,000 infants in the United States each year. It is a condition that impairs the control and movement of the body, due to damage that occurs to the developing brain. Usually children are diagnosed with the disorder by the time they are 3-years old, and fortunately continual brain damage does not occur. However, many of these children are left unable to walk, or perform other normal everyday tasks. If diagnosed earlier enough, some of the effects of the less severe cases can be greatly mitigated through treatment such as physical therapy, drugs, surgery, braces, and orthotic devices. Unfortunately though, these treatments can be extremely expensive, and take a while to kick in.

3D Model of the exoskeleton that Simonoff drew up.

3D Model of the exoskeleton that Simonoff drew up.

A group called Not Impossible Now aims to help people in need, through innovative methods of engineering, robotics, science, design, and just about anything else you can think of. They wanted to cooperate with students to develop a “Robot Walker” to help kids with Cerebral Palsy get back on their feet, quite literally.

Simonoff, and his fellow students in the Granada Hills HS robotics club, jumped at the opportunity to be part of something that could vastly change the lives of others in a very beneficial way. Typical Cerebral Palsy Gait Trainers, which train subjects with this disorder how to use their bodies to walk, can cost between $300,000 and $500,000 — a price that parents nor many insurance companies can not afford to cover.

3D printed exoskeleton

3D printed exoskeleton

So, the robotics club, with help from Not Impossible Now, and feedback from Dylan Edwards, phD, PT and David Putrino, PhD, PT from Burke Rehabilitation Center, set out to develop a Gait Trainer of their own, called the ‘Robot Walker’. Using a 3D printer to create an exoskeleton that is attached to a subject’s legs, they were able to create a complete prototype of their very own Robot Walker. It consisted of four motors, a treadmill, a harness, the 3D printed exoskeleton, and an iPad controlled gait.

The Team

The Team

Once the first prototype was complete, the team set out to recruit some more help. Specifically they were looking for ideas on how to improve their prototype. For example, they are currently using 2 Ame 226-3003 motors, but have found that these are not powerful enough. They are looking to create a more powerful drive system that is 70-100% more powerful than the Ame 226-3003 motors can provide, and are contemplating the use of an Amp Flow G43-500. In addition, Simonoff is looking for a way to sync the movements of all the motors so that the correct walking movements can be achieved.

“I need help developing a strategy in order to sync the movement of the 4 joints while running a correction algorithm on each joint individually,” he explained. “While the device is running, we need to be able to constantly check for a bluetooth message from the iPad. The bluetooth messages comes in via SPI from the adafruit bluefruitLE.”

If they can succeed in creating a final product of the Robot Walker, the hope is that they will be able to train patients with Cerebral Palsy how to walk in only one year, as compared to the normal five that it takes with traditional therapy. Also, the price tag will be nowhere near the $300,000+ that a typical Gait Trainer would cost.


So, while there are bombings, slayings and beatings taking place all around the world on a daily basis, there are people like these high school students who strive to make life easier and more pleasant for others, but unfortunately stories like this are not as glamorous to mainstream media.

What do you think about this high school robotics club’s ‘Robot Walker’? Will 3D printing allow for other customized training aids for those with disabilities, in the future? Discuss in the 3D printed Robot Walker forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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