Polish Bionics, founded by Jędrzej Stranz, is the latest company to bring exoskeleton technology to the popular crowdfunding website Kickstarter. The founder is joined by an interdisciplinary team aiming to create the world’s most affordable passive knee exoskeleton. With the mission statement, “The Power Assist for Everybody – Finally Here?” Polish Bionics is certainly aiming high. You can visit their Kickstarter page which is in its closing days of the fundraising campaign as of this publication here.
Jędrzej Stranz, the original founder, is motivated by his grandparents’ critical knee arthritis and his research experience with wearable robotics. After five years of development, the Polish Bionics team is confident that their passive exoskeleton, PROTON, can be an affordable and practical solution. To reduce both the cost and complexity, PROTON utilizes polymeric springs (which are lighter and smaller than steel springs) rather than powered actuators and controllers. The external frame structure of the passive knee exoskeleton is composed of aerospace-grade aluminum which is supported with the aid of a specifically designed hip belt. If funded, the release version is envisioned to weigh only 2.5 lbs (1.1 kg) for each leg and provide 150 lbs (70 kg) of lift while squatting.
Standards and Testing
The Polish Bionics Kickstarter campaign can also be viewed as an example of the importance of independent exoskeleton standardized testing. Without an industry agreed-upon method to test exoskeletons, there is no direct way for the performance claims by the team to be verified. Under what conditions can the PROTON achieve 150 lbs (70 kg) of lift while squatting? How much training should the user have? Does it resist motion, such as walking or running, and by how much? Can a worker wearing the PROTON safely evacuate a building in case of an emergency? This is not to say that the PROTON, or any other exoskeleton device on the market for that matter, can’t be sold without testing. Instead, it is a missed opportunity to decrease some of the uncertainty when introducing new wearable devices on the market.
ExR Q&A with Polish Bionics
1. Do you have a lock-in-place mechanism or spring disengage?
There is no lock-in-place mechanism, as it is unnecessary with such powerful suspension springs – they are lifting up to 70 kg of body mass, so the user feels almost completely weightless while squatting.
There is a spring disengage switch (in standing position), allowing for sitting, running, driving a car, or riding a bicycle.
2. What are the applications that you have in mind?
The PROTON is a substantially universal exoskeleton – because of its design, but also extraordinarily low price. It has been tested in gardening, housework, and industry jobs (steel industry and construction), with very positive feedback. PROTON makes it easier for elders to play with grandchildren and gives them a lot of independence back, which makes a powerful impact on their lives. But it also increases the efficiency of healthy workers – all this in just one product.
Exoskeletons on Kickstarter
The PROTON – the Affordable (and Powerful) Exoskeleton, is now the 29th exoskeleton on Kickstarter. The crowdfunding platform relies on donations and pre-orders from individual contributors for the project founders to turn their prototypes into low volume manufacturable products. Kickstarters tend to work well for digital and recreational products, such as board games, which tend to have a more defined shape in their prototype stage. Physical devices, in contrast, are at a disadvantage since even minor changes when transitioning from prototype to manufactured product can have a significant impact on the final look and performance. Regardless if an exoskeleton Kickstarter is funded or not, each well-thought-out project introduces exo technology to a wider audience.
PROTON – the affordable (and powerful) exoskeleton, Kickstarter, August through September 19, 2021, link