Learning to walk is a rite of passage for infant children. But what happens when a child is born with a physical disability? Can they use miniature versions of adult mobility devices to help them walk?
When considering this question for their startup, Trexo Robotics, U of T graduate students Manmeet Maggu and Rahul Udasi discovered that the answer is no. Adults who use mobility devices usually learned to walk as a child, developing the bones and muscles required to crawl, stand, balance and ultimately propel themselves forward. Children born with physical disabilities are often unable to go through these developmental steps. If they are to walk, they require technology that helps them learn the motions rather than a device that simply powers their legs.
Inspired by Maggu’s nephew Praneit, who has cerebral palsy, the two entrepreneurs were determined to find a solution. They developed a child-sized wearable robotic device at the University of Toronto, which they packed into a suitcase in the summer of 2016 and took with them to India to visit Maggu’s brother and family.
Praneit tried out the device—named the Trexo Home—in his family’s living room.
“Watching Praneit take his first steps using our device was an incredibly proud moment for us,” Maggu says.
Trexo’s vision to help children living with physical challenges swap their wheelchair for a walker-like device equipped with robotic “Iron Man” leg attachments has attracted a lot of attention well beyond Canada. In August 2018, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) initiated a research pilot with the Trexo Plus, which is the clinical version of the Trexo device, designed to work as a tool for gait training.
“CCHMC is ranked second among children’s hospitals, so getting recognition from them was really amazing for us,” Maggu says.
Several other rehab facilities have followed suit; in addition, the highly successful US accelerator Y Combinator accepted Trexo into their program at the beginning of 2019.
The Trexo Home is now available for pre-order here.
“Our product incorporates aspects of health care, computer science and engineering, not to mention the business side, so the fact that U of T can offer a number of accelerators with different expertise benefited us immensely,” says Maggu. “Without the U of T entrepreneurship environment, Trexo simply would not be where it is today.”