Putting the best foot forward

Mumbai-based engineer has invented a walker that uses robotics and will make life easier for those with walking disabilities

Gone are the days when a standard walker was the only ray of hope for those struggling to walk. The latest invention by a Mumbaikar will give a better chance to those with serious spinal injuries and any neurological problems. Named Walk Assist, this rehabilitation vehicle uses robotics that can take the weight of the patient and help the unused muscles of the person to function.

A patient takes help of the Walk Assist
A patient takes help of the Walk Assist

“Till now, a therapist has to depend on a walker and also hold the entire weight of the patient while he/she attempted to walk. The Walk Assist takes the weight of the patient, and at the same time sets a specific speed that the patient will have to follow. One can't be complacent about the physiotherapy sessions and this machine will help,” said Mihir Apte, the inventor.

The aquatic treadmill created by Mihir Apte
The aquatic treadmill created by Mihir Apte

An ex-Mumbai University student, Apte was one of the thousand-odd participants of the Innovator’s Award put together by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Department of Science and Technology as well as the Lockheed Martin Foundation. Of the 1300 applications received, only 20 were selected for the R1,00,000 cash prize and Apte was one of them.

Mihir Apte
Mihir Apte

“Although such walkers have been invented around the world, my idea was selected for being innovative. While the various forms of walkers usually only help in support, the Walk Assist gives mobility,” said the 40-year-old. This machine can be strapped to a patient and can be set a specific speed. “With the help of robotics, the brain of the patient is constantly reminded to keep pace. There’s no fear of falling. A patient simply has to give in to the machine and the machine works on the muscles of the patient automatically,” he added.

Along with the Walk Assist, Apte’s robotic machine also provides the option of an aquatic treadmill. “This treadmill is kept inside a glass cabin that is then filled with water. Once the patient is in water, his/her body weight goes down by more than half and it becomes easier for them to handle their weight. At the same time, the water adds more resistance and this helps in exercising the muscles well,” said Apte.
Although this technique has been applied before, this is the first time it is used by a machine like Walk Assist.

At present, five units of the machine have been sold to different hospitals across Mumbai and Pune. In Mumbai, the physiotherapy section of DY Patil Institute has picked one of the units.

“We keep getting feedback from these hospitals and try incorporating their suggestion and make improvements. The idea is to make the best use of this machine that can help people in need,” Apte added.

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