Last October, during the Makerfaire in Rome, the opencare WeMake team was exhibiting in front of project Hubotics! A DIY solution that provides customized physiotherapy at home. Composed of 3D printed parts, and a simple mobile app, the solution works in a way that makes it easy to stimulate muscles and nerves of the patient who needs therapy, with customized motion and power.
A wonderful family was in the Hubotics booth. I had a chance to interview Luca, the project co-founder, who was demonstrating the project and openly shared the story of his solution below.
The project is still in development and is in need of testers, read the story and see if you can take part in the project in its current status.
1. How did you start the project? What were your motivations?
The Hubotics project started in late 2013. At that point I was about to finish my Master’s studies and I wanted to add a practical side to my technical skills as an engineer and as a passionate DIYer by developing accessible technologies and aids which could have helped improving independence for people suffering from motor disabilities. Actually, the reason why I decided to study engineering and became a builder and hacker stemmed from my personal experience with my sister Chiara, who suffers from a motor disability.
I remember, as a child, my parents used to buy plenty of super expensive devices, as computer headsets, mice, keyboards or having to travel back and forth between clinics and private medical studios to have access to the “latest” rehabilitation techniques. After having hacked wheelchairs, remote controls for doors and televisions inside our house and having realized several other robotic contraptions, I realized that achievement of independence through the use of one’s own body is one of the most gratifying experiences everyone could hope for, that’s how the idea of creating an exoskeleton to be used in everyday’s life was born.
2. Did you start alone? How long did it take to develop the initial prototype? How was it funded?
Around that time, I started speaking about these ideas with Roberto, a friend with whom I had studied between Torino and Milano. Together, we started brainstorming and discussing and we finally converged on the idea of developing a low-cost, 3D printed exoskeleton for rehabilitation and assistance of upper-limbs, directly at people’s homes.
The idea was proposed at the Telecom Italia WCAP accelerator in Catania that believed in the project and decided to fund us. This allowed us to buy the 3D printers and the components to build and iterate on our ideas and prototypes. The first reliable prototype of the device, finalized in one year, consisted of a wearable, smartphone-controlled, elbow exoskeleton.
After showing the device at the MakerFaire 2015 in Rome and gathering plenty of positive feedback, we understood that the project had plenty of potential and decided to keep working on it.
What is your current status now?
Today, together with Roberto and Chiara, we keep on improving our devices and iterate on the designs in order to achieve a concept as usable and useful as possible while maximizing customizability and accessibility. Our latest device consists of an exoskeleton with 3 active degrees of freedom for controlling the shoulder abduction/adduction, shoulder flexion/extension and elbow flexion/extension of its wearer.
The device can be controlled by means of a smartphone app or by a program with predefined motions/tasks.
5. How do you see it moving forward? What kind of help/expertise/data that is missing for moving to a next phase?
Our main objective in the near future is running experiments with potential users of the exoskeleton and their relatives, in order to gather further feedback and improve our devices based on this.
Additionally, we are brainstorming on possible models that would allow the project to keep its philosophy of openness and accessibility while making it economically sustainable. For example, how to fund the project in order to promote further development? How to enable open/low-cost and customizable solutions capable of reaching end-users? How to ensure that these devices would work (and keep working) at users’ houses (services?), all these are open questions that we will be working on for the next phase.