Elena García Armada, Popular Award for European Inventor 2022
On June 21, 2022, the European Patent Office (EPO) announced the winners of the sixteenth edition of the European Inventor Awards, awards that are given each year to outstanding people in Europe and beyond who, with their innovations, contribute to technological development, economic growth and the improvement of society.
The researcher of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), Elena García Armada, received the Popular Award for European Inventor 2022 for her pioneering adaptable exoskeleton. The exoskeleton allows children in wheelchairs to walk during rehabilitation sessions and reduces muscle breakdown and medical complications. The CSIC researcher thus receives one of the most important international awards in the field of innovation.
"The public vote for Elena García Armada recognizes the determination, ingenuity and contribution of this exceptional inventor, who has harnessed her experience and expertise in robotics and health technology to improve the lives of many children," said António Campinos, President of the EPO. "His invention enables the experience of walking during rehabilitation sessions for children who might not otherwise be able to do so and offers hope to many who have been waiting for new treatment possibilities."
The CSIC researcher thanked all the people who have made it possible for her dream to become a reality. “This award is a source of pride for me, but also for Spain, because the pediatric exoskeleton is a scientific success resulting from the transfer of knowledge from our country”, he declared. In addition, the engineer did not want to forget the last Spanish woman to win this award: Margarita Salas. “Taking back the baton of my admired Margarita Salas makes this recognition something even more special”, he stated.
Although adult exoskeletons have been around since the 1960s, no one had developed one for children until Elena García Armada began looking into the problem in 2009. There was a clear need for such a device, as young wheelchair users are at risk of spinal deformities, which can ultimately shorten their lives.
García Armada saw the challenge as bigger than simply resizing the robotics to fit a smaller body. The reason being that children are often unable to walk due to neurological conditions and have complex symptoms in terms of joint movements, a pediatric exoskeleton needed to be adaptable and adjust its function to the symptoms of a particular child.
After focusing on industrial robotics, García Armada shifted his focus to pediatrics, inventing an adjustable titanium suit connected to a battery and a network of small motors with sensors, software, and machinery. The resulting mechanical joints intelligently adapt to each child's movement as their rehabilitation progresses. The exoskeleton allows children using wheelchairs to walk during rehabilitation sessions, reducing muscle breakdown and medical complications, and can improve mental well-being and sociability.
In 2013, García Armada carried out his first tests with a girl, Daniela, and founded a company, Marsi Bionics, to further develop that technology. In 2021, it obtained medical clearance and has since sold devices to hospitals in Spain and Mexico.
The awards ceremony was held again this year virtually, in a digital event held from the same EPO headquarters in Munich, open to the public from all over the world.
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