Cerebral palsy (CP) affects 500,000 children in the United States alone and is the most common childhood motor disability, according to the CDC. One common side effect is limited walking ability. If children with CP don’t undergo regular physical therapy to make sure their muscles stay worked, painful muscle contractions and deformities can ensue. When one of his family members had a child diagnosed with CP, Manmeet Maggu was inspired to tackle this problem head-on with his friend and former classmate, Rahul Udasi. Together they formed Trexo Robotics to build a robotic walking device that is now being tested in homes with families. Watch the video to learn more about how Maggu and Udasi developed this groundbreaking device with the help of rapid prototyping.
Fred Hatziioannou, Ben’s father: Ben’s a five-year-old boy—really social, really engaging, very intelligent and bright little boy. Really loves reading and asking a lot of questions. Very curious.
Andrea Hatziioannou, Ben’s mother: Ben has cerebral palsy, and because of the cerebral palsy, it requires him to use devices to assist with his walking. I had been looking for a gait-training device for Ben to be able to access, and I could only find things that were more suited towards adults. There was nothing really that I could find for Ben.
Manmeet Maggu, CEO, Trexo: Trexo builds wearable robotic legs that can attach onto a child’s leg and provide them the assistance that can enable them to walk—in many cases for the first time in their lives. The idea started quite a few years ago when I found out that my nephew was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is one of the most common physical disabilities among children, with over 500,000 cases in just the US. So finding out about my nephew, we realized that he would likely spend his entire life in the wheelchair. I mean, they say sitting eight hours a day is bad for you. Imagine how bad it is for someone spending their entire life sitting. And we just wanted to fix that.
Jo-Anne Weltman, Physiotherapist/Owner, SMILE Therapy for Kids: They develop joint contractures. They develop joints that actually sublux and dislocate. And because of this, they end up having horrible and painful surgeries to correct these deformities because the deformities themselves cause a lot of pain and discomfort. So being able to be upright during the day, moving around, just allows those muscles to be stretched out, and it will help prevent these deformities from occurring.
Maggu: We already were in love with the concept of robotics and Iron Man, and this was just the perfect mixture of doing something that is close to our heart, but at the same time is so important to us, which provided the passion to push it forward.
Weltman: The list of benefits with this device is endless. It allows a child to be upright. Being able to stand and not being sitting all day is very important for these children.
Maggu: You can build the most complicated robotic system with the most amazing control algorithms, but if it is not comfortable, no child will wear this for more than five minutes.
Anelise Jorgenson, Mechanical Engineer, Trexo: Part of it is that every child is different, so how you’re going to connect to them is going to change between different children. So you want something that will work for different shoe sizes. They might have their ankles at different angles, have legs of different lengths, so you want something that isn’t too specified. You don’t want a different thing for every child, but you want something that will work for every child.
Rahul Udasi, CTO, Trexo: Most of the aspects that deal with comfort, like the padding, the cuffs, we started using 3D-printed parts. And that’s where Autodesk helped a lot because we were able to iterate not on a weekly basis but even on a daily basis sometimes.
Weltman: We have some children who normally do not like to try new therapies or new techniques or new devices, but there wasn’t one child that didn’t enjoy it.
Andrea: It’s a really user-friendly device to be able to get him in and out of. I think after maybe the second or third time, I was really confident going pretty quick putting him in.
Fred: His posture, his standing . . . He’s a lot more upright. He feels a lot firmer when he plants his feet. We noticed, too: A lot of times, we take him out after he’s had a really good session in it. Again, he feels strong, but he’s taking some really nice steps. And you’re seeing a self-confidence grow, which is a great thing. And that’s what’s most important to us.
Weltman: I’ve heard so many doctors over the years telling parents, “Your child will never do this. Your child will never do that.” And time and time again, we’ve proved them wrong. The more technology that we have to help them reach these potentials, the greater their opportunities will be to actually reach these potentials.
Udasi: The greatest reward I’ve seen is when families come in who might be skeptical. And as soon as their child starts walking, they start brainstorming ideas on how they can improve this product, where they want to use it.
Maggu: The joy that we see on their eyes and the excitement and the positive feedback that we get from that provides us with the motivation and the passion to continue forward every day.