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S10 BIG Program Makes a Big Impact on Mobility Research

A novel exoskeleton purchased with support from ORIP’s S10 Basic Instrumentation Grant (BIG) Program (S10OD032226) has changed the landscape of mobility research and rehabilitation in the United States. The BIG Program provides funding for investigators at institutions that have not received substantial S10 instrumentation funding to purchase a single specialized, commercially available instrument. With BIG funding, Dr. Saikat Pal of the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) led the first U.S. acquisition of the Wandercraft Atalante X, the first self-balancing exoskeleton for use in rehabilitation of patients with neurological disorders (Figure 1). Bringing the Atalante X to the United States has prompted research growth and new opportunities to improve the lives of people with limited mobility.

Figure 1. Exoskeleton user Damyane Evely and Dr. Saikat Pal. Photo courtesy of Peter Labrozzi, NJIT.

Advances in robotics technology, small computer chips, and artificial intelligence make this an ideal time to push the science of robotic mobility devices forward, leading to less burdensome devices that allow more natural movement. “The timing is right to build these devices that enable people who really need them to use them effectively,” Dr. Pal said.

The ideal mobility device allows people to go about their daily lives easily, and the Atalante X exoskeleton is the first step toward this goal. Other wearable robotic exoskeletons available to people with spinal cord injury (SCI), stroke, or other neurological disorders involve crutches or a walker, which require the use of hands and arms, putting them out of reach of many people who do not have adequate control or strength in their arms. Using these aids also results in fatigue and strain on the shoulders and wrists, limiting the intensity and range of activities a user can perform in an exoskeleton. The Atalante X is the first exoskeleton that allows hands-free use, which reduces fatigue and increases the number of people who can use it. For those who can use their hands and arms, this exoskeleton also increases the number of tasks they can perform while using it—a person wearing a self-balancing exoskeleton in daily life would be able to open doors, carry items, and otherwise go about their day much more naturally.  

As a mechanical engineer specializing in dynamics (i.e., how the human body moves), Dr. Pal assesses a body in motion by tracking limb trajectories, muscle coordination, and external forces acting on that body. Research participants who use the Atalante X exoskeleton in Dr. Pal’s laboratory are outfitted with tracking dots at key points on their body, allowing Dr. Pal and his team to track how specific areas of the body move in three dimensions while using the exoskeleton. Insights gained from these studies1 help refine exoskeleton design, improving the natural appearance of the movement and decreasing the stress on the participant, thereby moving the technology closer to a product ready for everyday use.

Figure 2. Damyane Evely walks in the Atalante X exoskeleton with the support of Vishnu Chandran, a Ph.D. student in Dr. Pal’s laboratory. Photo courtesy of Peter Labrozzi, NJIT.

One major challenge of dynamic motion is maintaining stability during the transition from a weight-bearing stance to the next step as the leg swings forward in the air. Swing can be minimized, but the gait will look less natural. The Atalante X exoskeleton has 12 degrees of freedom and calculates the user’s center of mass continuously and dynamically, ensuring that with each step, the user maintains stability. A user can move more naturally and, at the same time, be confident in the security of the exoskeleton.

Every person with SCI who has used NJIT’s exoskeleton has been able to walk independently during the first session, usually in as little as 20 minutes (Figure 2). The ease of using the exoskeleton is promising not only for everyday mobility assistance but also for clinical rehabilitation—patients with recent SCI who engage in rehabilitation early are likely to have better long-term outcomes, so using the exoskeleton in clinical settings will help patients improve more quickly. One of NJIT’s partners that shares use of the exoskeleton is a team from the Spinal Cord Damage Research Center at the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which is able to bring patients with SCI to NJIT to work with the exoskeleton for rehabilitation.

The exoskeleton has enabled Dr. Pal and his team to build a foundation that will support many types of research and care in the future. A collaborator found the project so encouraging that they invested in their own exoskeleton, expanding the availability of robotic mobility aids in the United States and promoting advances toward the next generation of mobility more likely. Wandercraft also moved its headquarters to the United States, in part on the promise of Dr. Pal’s project, and the next generation of the exoskeleton was launched in New York City in December 2023. This version is about half the weight of the previous model, showing that this research is rapidly bringing everyday use of exoskeletons even closer.

Matthieu Masselin, the chief executive officer of Wandercraft, emphasized that Dr. Pal’s early support of the Atalante X has been instrumental in showcasing its potential for patients with limited mobility. “His groundbreaking research in kinesthetics and gait aligns perfectly with our approach to building self-balancing exoskeletons that replicate natural human motion,” said Mr. Masselin. “In less than a decade with NJIT, he has already made invaluable progress towards revolutionizing rehabilitation and is now helping even more patients experience the benefits of Atalante X in the tri-state area. Wandercraft is proud to partner with Dr. Pal and enhance the lives of individuals through innovative exoskeleton technology.”

Next steps for Dr. Pal and his team are to expand trials of the exoskeleton, including with people who do not have full use of their hands, and gather more 3D motion capture data. Dr. Pal is passionate about democratizing the use of exoskeletons, which requires making them easy to use for many types of people and readily available to anyone. “My life goal is to make exoskeletons boring,” Dr. Pal said. “If they’re boring, the technology has evolved so much that anyone who needs an exoskeleton can use one to blend in with their able-bodied peers and it’s not a big deal. They can wake up in the morning, put on a device, go to work, pursue their hobbies, socialize with friends, and at the end of the day put the device to charge and go to bed, and repeat the next day.”

For more information on ORIP’s S10 Shared Instrumentation Programs, including the BIG program, please visit


1 de Carvalho, G.*, Chandran, V.*, Spungen, A., Pal, S., “Joint kinematics and ground reaction forces from spinal cord injured and able-bodied participants walking in a self-balancing exoskeleton.” American Society of Biomechanics, August 2023, Knoxville, TN (thematic poster presentation).

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