Wearable Robotics Association Innovation Challenge 2017

Wearable Robotics Association Innovation Challenge 2017

Where else could you find a wearable sensor network, a variable stiffness prosthetic ankle, an inflatable powered glove, and an exoskeleton do-it-yourself kit presented back-to-back?  Only at the Wearable Robotics Association Conference Innovation Challenge 2017 at WearRAcon17.  The WearRAcon17 Innovation Challenge was designed to give smaller companies, labs, student projects, hobbyists and new startups a chance to compete with and showcase their recent work.

New for WearRAcon17 was the Innovation Challenge Briefing.  Each finalist was given six minutes to do a lightning pitch on the main conference stage in front of the judges and all attendees.  In addition to the main prize of $5,000 sponsored by StrongArm Technologies, everyone at the event had one ballot to cast for a fan favorite.  This, of course, was not the only opportunity to become familiar with the projects being presented.  The posters and prototypes were on permanent display in the reception hall.  In addition to sponsoring the Innovation Challenge, StrongArm Technologies CEO Sean Petterson joined the illustrious judging panel with Thomas Looby, CEO Ekso Bionics, and Richard Little, CTO of Rex Bionics.

EduExo's Volker Bartenbach and ExR's Bobby Marinov at WearRAcon17
EduExo’s Volker Bartenbach and ExR’s Bobby Marinov at WearRAcon17

EduExo – A Robotics Exoskeleton Kit for STEM Education – Inspired by ETH Zürich, where it became clear that out of hundreds of students that apply to work for the university’s exoskeleton research lab(s), only a handful would be selected because robotics research is so expensive.  The idea was born to create an exoskeleton education kit that allows students and enthusiasts to further their exploration of the discipline and give them a chance to fan the flames of their interest.  The target demographic for the kit is high school and college students, makers or hobbyists and teachers and professors that would like to integrate exoskeleton education into their classrooms.  For more information, you can visit EduExo’s website at or read our article Introducing EduExo.

Common Footwear Foundation for Lower Limb Wearable Robots – Mark Roser presented a plug and play device for a patented, modified footwear that can directly connect to exoskeletons.  The proposed footwear links the exoskeleton to the ground in a fashionable, bi-lateral semirigid solution.  Multiple styles and colors can be utilized.  Compare this to the current, heavy metal shoe add-ons.  This project can be integrated with multiple passive and active exoskeleton projects.  A second version of the device uses a spring to offload the front of the foot for people suffering from front foot complications due to diabetes.  The current solution is a surgical procedure that changes the loading of the foot, the same can now be achieved with this exoskeleton prototype. Open Innovators

Siena Robotics and Systems Lab the Robotic Sixth Finger
Siena Robotics and Systems Lab the Robotic Sixth Finger

The Sixth Finger for Compensating Hand Functions – Giovanni Spagnoletti.  After suffering paralysis from stroke, handling and manipulating objects with both hands can become difficult.  Current tools are stabilizers that fix an object in place so that it can be controlled with one hand.  The suggested idea is to have a powered brace that can immobilize objects.  This is entirely based on soft robotics.  Another aspect of this is using simple EMG integration to control the soft exoskeleton intuitively.  This is a great idea for a useful wearable robot.  The device will be studied to determine if it produces secondary benefits.  It is known that people get accustomed to not using an incapacitated limb.  The Sixth Finger could mentally re-train the user that their incapacitated limb is needed in order to achieve tasks.  It is possible that this shift in attitude will be measurable and instrumental.   Visit the University of Siena Robotics and Systems Lab

Wearable Sensor Network – Jacob Garant – There are 74.6 million American adults living with daily routine altering physical disabilities who have some sort of trouble completing daily activities.  Hence there is an opportunity for assistive wearable robotics to make a difference.  But we need to track the human characteristics to maximize the effectiveness of wearable.  The prototype is a three-axial accelerometer sensor that can also be modified for other data collection.  What makes this unique is that the sensor comes in sets of seven and is designed to provide a more comprehensive visual of the state of the wearer.  Designed to be completely unobtrusive and flexible.  The target market is wearable robotics and wearable sensors.  The research was conducted at the Sarver Heart Center, Tucsan, Arizona,

Prosthetic Ankle with Biomimetic Variable Stiffness – Max Shepherd – Background: 600,000 Americans with major lower limb amputations.  This causes mobility difficulties and most prosthetic feet act like a linear spring.  However, a non-linear spring could be better for mimicking walking.  A slider can change the behavior of the stiffness.  The variable spring prosthetic can achieve different stiffness levels for different tasks (walking at a negative incline, horizontal, etc..).   It is important to distinguish variable damping vs variable stiffness for prosthetics.  The same technology could be applied externally for an exoskeleton application.  Developed at Northwestern University Shirley Ryan Ability Lab.  More information on the project can be found on their website:

Hong Kai Yap, National University of Singapore and Bobby Marinov, Exoskeleton Report, demoing the Fabric-Based Assistive Glove for Hand Impaired Patients
Hong Kai Yap, National University of Singapore, and Bobby Marinov, Exoskeleton Report, demoing the Fabric-Based Assistive Glove for Hand Impaired Patients

Fabric-Based Assistive Glove for Hand Impaired Patients by Hong Kai Yap – there is a family of soft robotic gloves.  This glove initially started as a silicone bladder inflatable glove but the bladders tended to fail suddenly and without warning.  The glove has now evolved into a full fabric wearable.  It can support finger flexion and extension, is 100% fabric at the fingers, and is actuated using compressed gas.  The current iteration uses an external controller and a small compressor in a pouch.  The technology has been licensed to the Singapore startup ROCESO Technologies as the EsoGlove.  Visit for more informatino.

Brad Newman, ASTRO Medical LLC, presenting the ASTRO XO at WearRAcon17
Brad Newman, ASTRO Medical LLC, presenting the ASTRO XO at WearRAcon17

ASTRO XO, Brad Newman – designed for plantar fasciitis repetitive micro trauma resulting in collagen degeneration at the origin of the plantar fascia on the medial tubercle.  The goal was to create a design that redistributes forces to the front of the foot and away from the heel.  This lowers the time a person stays on the heel.  Check out the ASTRO XO which is now a commercially available product.  To purchase, or for much more information visit

The Innovation Challenge Briefing gave an opportunity to the finalists of the Innovation Challenge to present in front of the entire conference.  The presentations were brief and the rapid format kept everyone at the edge of their seats.

The WearRA Leadership Team and Sean Petterson from StrongArm Technologies present the main prize to EduExo
The WearRA Leadership Team and Sean Petterson from StrongArm Technologies present the main prize to EduExo

Huge congratulations to Volker Bartenbach of EduExo for winning both the fan favorite award (free WearRAcon18 entry) and the $5,000 Innovation Challenge 2017 prize sponsored by StronArm Technologies.  All of the finalists had effective presentations and top notch prototypes.  Congratulations to all participants of the WearRAcon17 Innovation Competition!


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