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A company based in Minnesta, USA, has developed a powered, orthotic assistive device – labelled a wheelchair for the arms – to help people without a full range of independent arm motion perform functional tasks by supporting extension and flexion in their shoulders and elbows.

Jason Graves, vice president of sales at Abilitech Medical said,

“There isn’t a ton out there for patients who experience loss of function in their arms, especially when it comes to devices that allow people to move on their own or hold weight.”

Constructed from a machined aluminium shell (the same type as that used in aeroplane interiors) with a high strength to weight ratio, an exoskeletal arm spreads the load of the object being manipulated by utilising a spring counterbalance system and hinge through a series of motors and springs, and software.

This is connected to a breathable, cloth, body frame vest worn which wraps around the chest and articulates across the back of the user who can then, due to the arm and the device having a sensation of weightlessness, hold weighted objects and move their shoulders and elbows independently.

For additional comfort, formable foam is used to pad the aluminium and plastic structure of the vest while it is secured to the hips by a lumbosacral orthotic – providing the option for extended wear.

The device can be custom-calibrated with an accessibility switch enabling different levels of support to aid daily living.