LOPES, which stands for LOwer-extremity Powered ExoSkeleton, is a Dutch robotics project to develop mechanical legs for people who suffered from a stroke. These legs will then help the patients regain function in their legs and teach them to walk again by sparking a memory function in the brain. The robot functions independently to adapt to the needs of the patient and only provides support where needed. If the patient progresses and shows signs of more leg function, LOPES will tone down the support and set new boundaries.
At the present stage of the project, the person has to walk on a treadmill, on which the robot is attached. The robot designed for rehabilitation consists of a complicated system of tubes, wires, cables and cushions to keep it safe, powered and functional. There are however plans to develop a version of LOPES which will be fully functional in and around the house without any extra securities holding the robot up right.
The biggest difficulty that has surfaced during this project is the large amount of power the legs need to function. This is also why the stationary position, with a power plug into the 220-volt system, is more functional than a battery pack at this point in time. Other issues that have come up during this project are the possible scepsis among potential users and the question of how an autonomous robot will respond to human will in different situations. For LOPES to be fully functional in a society it needs to know what it can and can’t do.
Early tests have shown slight improvements among several people. The researchers and developers see this is a big step in the right direction, seeing that these patients were diagnosed as being in a stage of zero-improvement.