On the MARCH

Claudia Commijs knew something was wrong a few seconds after she hit the ground. She'd fallen off her horse and couldn't move her legs. Medical professionals later told her that she would probably never walk again.

11.5 years later, Commijs may prove them wrong thanks to Project MARCH. The members of this ongoing Dreamhall project are designing and building a robotic exoskeleton that will increase mobility for people like her who suffer from debilitating spinal injuries. Codenamed MARCH, which stands for ‘Motor-Assisted Robotic Chassis for Humans', the team is racing to complete the project by October. That's when they'll travel to Zürich for Cybathlon, the world's first 'bionic games.’

Commijs joined the team at a design presentation on 11 March held at the Aula Congress Centre. There they outlined their goals for Cybathlon and revealed some key details about MARCH. The innovative exoskeleton was inspired by MINDWALKER, a prototype created as part of a collaboration between TU Delft and the University of Twente.

MARCH should prove more user-friendly and intuitive than MINDWALKER. In addition to being lighter than its predecessor, the groundbreaking exoskeleton will include several improved features. "With MARCH, we‘re trying to explore the possibilities of increased mobility with exoskeletons," said Sjoerd Butter, the team’s public relations manager. "There is an extra joint in the hip that makes it possible to step sideways and conquer everyday obstacles in real life like a staircase or a slope with uneven terrain."

The team hopes to have MARCH completed this week. Then they‘ll turn their attention to the project’s next phase. "We expect to start testing at the beginning of April," Butter said. "We will build a track and test everything in house at the Dreamhall."

The team will also complete a 3D scan of Commijs‘ legs to create a customised frame that will be easier for her to use when she joins them at Cybathlon. She’s currently training at the St. Maarten Medical Centre to prepare for the event.

Programmes like Project MARCH could greatly improve the lives of paraplegics. In addition to increasing their mobility, these exoskeletons might help them offset health concerns ranging from blood circulation to social anxiety.