Dr. Michael Goldfarb is the H. Fort Flowers Chair in Mechanical Engineering and Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Goldfarb developed the exoskeleton with the help of a team of his graduate students, and is now partnered with Parker Hannifin and Shepherd Center to further develop the technology.
How did you initially decide to focus your time and resources on working with exoskeleton technology?
I first started to develop a strong interest in rehabilitative technology in high school, and as a graduate student I began working with systems designed to facilitate standing and walking for individuals with paralysis. At the time, such work was confined to a lab setting due to limitations imposed by existing technology. The advanced controls, cables, motors and other components simply were not available yet, and while this raised legitimate questions about the real-world utility of exoskeleton devices, I retained my interest and desire to learn more about human motion and control.
How have recent advances in related fields contributed to the advancement of exoskeleton technology?
Within the past decade, battery, controller, motor, sensor and other related technologies have reached a state where our early ideas for the exoskeleton could become a reality. These advancements are occurring at a faster rate than ever, and will help to support the future improvements to Indego and other rehabilitative devices.
How has the relationship between Vanderbilt University, Parker and Shepherd Center contributed to the development of Indego?
The relationship between Vanderbilt, Parker Hannifin and Shepherd Center has been central to the development of Indego®. None of the progress we have made would have been possible without the contributions of each organization, and I consider myself very fortunate to work with such outstanding partners.
Shepherd Center has played a fundamental role from early on, testing the device and helping to identify ways to improve it. This has helped us to avoid developing “in a bubble” without feedback from end users. We went to Shepherd early and often for help, and would not likely have been successful without them.
Working on an advanced system like Indego, it is crucial to have an exceptional commercial partner to pass the baton to, not just in terms of developing the technology, but navigating the challenges required to bring it to market. I could not possibly overstate the importance of working with partners like Parker and Shepherd Center, and the benefits provided by such a unique relationship.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your extensive experience developing Indego?
There are countless rewarding experiences I could share, but it really comes down to seeing the positive impact the technology makes on the lives of people with paralysis. I’ll never forget seeing Michael Gore, who was paralyzed in an accident over a decade ago, walking down the boardwalk on a sunny evening in San Diego, CA. I remember watching David Carter use the device, and seeing the look on his parents’ faces as they watched their son walk for the first time in over a year. These are the moments that inspire me to work to expand the bounds of exoskeleton technology; my experience working on Indego has been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.
What do you expect the future holds for human motion and control technology?
Given the recent advancements in supporting technologies, we are at the front end of many potential applications that could create a significant impact on the lives of people living with limited mobility. I believe the next decade will bring a range of products and systems that will improve the human condition, and Indego is an exciting first step in that direction.
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