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The History Behind Auxivo’s Educational Exoskeletons

The History Behind Auxivo's Educational Exoskeletons EduExo 2015-present

How can we make exoskeleton technology more accessible to students and enthusiasts? This article reviews the history and offers a preview of the future of the first exo STEM education kit, the EduExo and EduExo Pro. It was initially published on (link).

Motivation and first concepts (2015-2016)

The story of the EduExo can be traced back to Cybathlon 2016. Professor Robert Riener initiated the Cybathlon to showcase and advance assistive technologies such as gait exoskeletons. The first competition was held in October 2016 in a stadium in Zürich, Switzerland.

In the years leading up to the competition, several universities, research labs, and companies worldwide started developing gait exoskeletons and training pilots to participate.

One of these projects, the VariLeg exoskeleton, began at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in 2014. In this project, a team of ten students was tasked with developing a gait exoskeleton from scratch within two years. By the end of the project, a pilot with spinal cord injury participated with the VariLeg exoskeleton in the Cybathlon exoskeleton race.

Right from the start, it became apparent that students were strongly interested in the project. While only ten positions were available, more than 100 students applied, showing great interest in the technology. The interdisciplinary nature of Exoskeletons attracted students from diverse fields and backgrounds, including health science, design, and various engineering disciplines.

This huge gap between interest and opportunity was noticed by Volker Bartenbach, one of the project supervisors and, back then, a PhD student at the Sensory Motor Systems Lab of Professor Robert Riener.

Experiencing the students’ incredible motivation and desire to learn about exoskeleton technology and seeing the lack of opportunities to get involved, Volker wanted to find a way to make hands-on learning about exoskeleton technology accessible to more people.

The limitation back then was that outside of very specialized courses such as the VariLeg project, almost no accessible information or resources about exoskeleton technology existed, and students found it impossible to access exoskeleton hardware for hands-on learning and experimentation.

The solution to this problem was relatively simple and has existed in robotics for decades: educational robotic kits. Creating an educational exoskeleton kit combining theoretical background knowledge in a handbook with exoskeleton hardware that can be assembled and programmed by the users themselves could be a great door opener for many to learn about exoskeleton technology. While the general idea was straightforward, developing a fully-fledged, high-quality educational exoskeleton kit was a significant project.

The first ideas and concepts for such a kit were developed as a side project in 2015 and 2016, resulting in the first prototypes of an elbow exoskeleton and a handbook outline. By the end of 2016, the project had progressed enough that, after defending his PhD, Volker decided to bring it to the market while simultaneously trying to raise funding for a larger project that eventually would lead to the incorporation of Auxivo.

EduExo becoming a commercial STEM robotics kit (2017-2020)

After launching a website and publicly announcing the EduExo project in December 2016, Bobby Marinov from the Exoskeleton Report discovered and featured it in early 2017. He also encouraged participation in the WeaRaCon 2017 innovation competition. This led to the EduExo being presented in April 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona, and winning both the audience award and the jury award.

Motivated by this success, a Kickstarter campaign was launched in May/June 2017 to finance the commercial launch. Looking back, this campaign was rather basic, with a very low production value, but it was successful. Thanks to the support of many great members of the exoskeleton community and from the maker and robotics communities on Kickstarter, the campaign reached more than 270% of its goal, paving the way for the first EduExo to be launched in October 2017.

For commercialization, the company Beyond Robotics was incorporated in 2017. A Start-up Idea Price from the Swiss Venture Kick Competition supported this endeavor.

Between 2017 and 2020, Beyond Robotics sold the original EduExo in three different versions: a digital maker edition, a boxed edition, and an extended edition with an additional electromyography (EMG) sensor. During this time, EduExo saw increasing adoption by private users, schools, and universities, resulting in almost 500 units sold by the end of 2020. Beyond Robotics was eventually dissolved in 2020, and the EduExo continued by Auxivo.

The EduExo at Auxivo (Since 2020)

Speaking of Auxivo, in 2017, ETH Zürich supported an exoskeleton technology transfer project with a so-called Pioneer Fellowship, and Volker joined forces with Roger Gassert (Professor of Rehabilitation Engineering at ETH Zürich) and Michael Stucky (ETH business Coach) to work on the project, which eventually resulted in the incorporation of Auxivo AG in 2019.

While the scope of Auxivo is to develop industrial and occupational exoskeletons that support their users in many different workplaces and industries, the EduExo was continued at Auxivo as it was well in line with Auxivo’s mission of making exoskeletons more accessible and understandable to a wider audience. The EduExo presented an opportunity for Auxivo to support students, educators, engineers, and researchers in accessing exoskeleton technology for learning, teaching, and R&D, further democratizing the field.

To foster this goal, the Auxivo team not only continued with the EduExo but also extended and further improved it. Based on the feedback of an increasing number and variety of users, the Auxivo team evolved the EduExo offering to provide a suitable solution for everyone who wants to get involved in the field:

  • The original maker edition was released for free, making it accessible to everyone, especially students and hobbyists, regardless of their budget.
  • A “Pro” Version was launched in March 2022. It aims especially at higher education by providing more sophisticated hardware and an extended handbook covering advanced topics of exoskeleton development.
  • The “normal” EduExo was also redesigned and introduced as version 2 at the Rehab Week in Rotterdam in July 2022. It was improved with a new, better-integrated design.

As EduExos gained global adoption, Auxivo received extensive feedback, particularly from universities using the EduExo Pro. Initially designed as a maker product, the EduExo Pro required users to complete most assembly steps themselves, incorporating numerous prototyping components to support a full “do-it-yourself” experience. While this design offered users complete access to the hardware and was perfect for private users, it also made building the exoskeleton labor-intensive and resulted in a product that was less robust during extended, intense use.

In university settings, teaching staff often needed to prepare multiple EduExo units for use in weekly classes throughout the semester. They expressed the wish to simplify the assembly process further and reduce the number of components to decrease the likelihood of assembly errors or damage to components during use.

In response, Auxivo updated the EduExo Pro in collaboration with ETH Zürich to better meet the needs of university teaching. It integrates most electronics on a custom-made PCB, has fewer mechanical parts, and features numerous quality-of-life improvements to make it easier to assemble and maintain. Thus, it saves additional time and resources when preparing a high-quality learning experience. The new version was announced in May 2024, with the launch scheduled for July 2024.

With the introduction of the updated Pro version, Auxivo has completed its educational exoskeleton portfolio. Ranging from the freely accessible Maker Edition to the Boxed Version designed for classrooms and students and the Pro Version optimized for higher education and research, the EduExo lineup makes information about exoskeleton technology more widely available and provides access to exoskeleton hardware. 

Today, Auxivo offers a scalable, hands-on educational experience, supporting anyone who wants to learn about or teach exoskeleton technology.

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