What’s been the evolution of the Agilik—from birth to now?

The Agilik has two parents, you might say. One is the work in exoskeletons that Bionic Power has done for the military since 2008, beginning with an energy-harvesting brace that takes advantage of inefficiencies in a normal gait to generate electricity with minimal metabolic effort. To create the harvester we had to develop a lightweight motor/generator, the strapping system, the electronics to control it all, and the lightweight shells. All of this went into the Agilik. The other parent was the gait state machine (GSM) that Dr. Thomas Bulea and his colleagues developed at the National Institutes of Health. By combining the GSM and the electromechanical exoskeleton, we created the Agilik smart orthosis.

What’s the significance—in terms of design—of who it is made for and what their needs are? How is that different from a device that’s broader in scope or application?

Again, there are synchronicities at play between the original PowerWalk energy harvester and the needs of people with crouch gait. Our original exoskeleton was designed to be as invisible to the user as possible, allowing for a lightweight and comfortable orthosis. For the military user we did not want to limit their natural motion, and for children with crouch gait, we again want to allow for their natural movement, just assisted in key places.

One of the important differentiators between our Agilik and many of the other exoskeletons that are out there is that our user initiates any assistance given by the Agilik. The person using the Agilik uses their own motor control, instead of relying on the device. The Agilik does not direct the user’s gait, it only gives it a boost. This is especially helpful for our target market, who will benefit from increased motor control due to increased activity.

By focusing on a smaller market first we can focus on making the absolute best version that this market needs, instead of being forced to water down features or add superfluous ones to match a broader use.

When transitioning from the specificity of making a device for crouch gait to people with knee issues—what sort of challenges does that pose? In terms of the thinking that’s involved in rethinking its applications and the user and their needs?

Learning everything possible about the users and their needs is a part of any product development. What will be challenging perhaps is that the market is not as easily defined. There are many types of knee and leg issues that could be helped by a product like the Agilik. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, for example, knee pain affects approximately 25 percent of American adults, with osteoarthritis being the most common among people 50 or older. But that is only one issue, and there are lots of others. So narrowing it down and deciding exactly which issues we want to address with the next model may prove difficult, because we want to help everyone!

What is the fantasy version of the Agilik—in looks, in usability?

An individually customized, carbon fiber, slimline orthosis that can be worn under pants or a dress, or over pants or shorts and still look amazing—that is the ultimate goal. Minimal but durable and comfortable. It could help people with crouch gait, people with osteoarthritis or muscle weakness, or even hikers looking to go farther than they could without assistance.

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