An exoskeleton is a mechanical framework that is attached to the body like a sort of exterior skeleton and can change people’s mobility: It not only allows people who have suffered spinal cord injuries to walk again. “Exoskeletons are considered a breakthrough in the fields of technology and mechatronics. Their modular structure means that they offer huge potential as aids that can be used in various areas of life – for people with both general and age-related disabilities,” explains Tristan Vouga, co-founder of the exoskeleton manufacturer TWIICE.
The Swiss start-up TWIICE started developing exoskeletons five years ago at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). The TWIICE team has since developed a modular exoskeleton that makes huge improvements to the lives of people with disabilities in a way that is literally life-changing.
A modular structure to adapt to different disabilities
One exoskeleton alone can never meet all expectations, because every disability is unique: TWIICE’s modular and customizable product has the potential to help not only people who have suffered spinal cord injuries, but also people with general physical disabilities. Depending on the disability, the exoskeleton allows people to regain some of their independence in day-to-day life, for example when it comes to getting up, walking or climbing stairs. Something that was once confined to the realms of science fiction is now becoming a reality. Weighing 15 kg and with the ability to operate autonomously for three hours, this exoskeleton is designed to react to different pathologies, morphologies and user experiences.
Giving people their mobility back
Based on long-standing experience and technical advancements, TWIICE will also be offering products designed for people who have lost their full mobility as a result of the ageing process over the coming months and years. This move will see TWIICE gradually expand its target group and create further social added value.
As a social innovation, TWIICE’s development is an ideal fit for Baloise’s sustainability strategy, because it offers huge potential for making a social contribution with added value: The products not only give people suffering from physical disabilities the gift of mobility in everyday life (back). They also improve quality of life and promote social interaction. This means that Baloise can support future forms of mobility for everyone in keeping with its sustainability approach and its promise to take social responsibility.
Mobility isn’t just about cars. Its partnership with TWIICE allows Baloise to showcase its broader understanding of mobility. The use of TWIICE’s leading exoskeleton has the potential not only to revolutionise the mobility of paraplegics, but also to maintain individual mobility for older generations against the backdrop of demographic change.
Video shoot in Zermatt
For Baloise, the partnership with TWIICE is about more than just adding another component to its “mobility” ecosystem. It is hoping to use the commitment to reach a broader audience and convince them of the capabilities and innovation potential of its partner. In line with this approach, Baloise joined and supported TWIICE at a video shoot. Zermatt, with its breath-taking views of the Matterhorn, was chosen as the location for the shoot. The focus was on the new WIITE product and Martin Loos, who has been paralysed from the waist down since a climbing accident ten years ago.
An exoskeleton that lets you go on ski tours
“With my wheelchair I can get around town fairly simply and easily, but I wanted to go backcountry skiing again and get back to the places I used to enjoy but can’t access in a wheelchair”, says Martin.
The new WIITE modular extension is compatible with standard ski boots and the idea is that it will allow Martin to go on ski tours in powdery snow. It sounds impressive in theory, but does it actually work? And what about the logistical challenges: how do you get a wheelchair user up a mountain in deep snow - together with all of his equipment? It’s certainly possible, but requires a lot of hard work, creativity and helping hands.
A magical moment
After making our way up the mountain through the powdery snow and spending around 15 minutes attaching and adjusting the exoskeleton, the time has come: seeing someone in a wheelchair stand up and take his first step (all by himself) was an indescribable and very emotional moment, even for Martin himself: “At first I was really focused, with each step I was afraid I’d lose my balance. But after just a few minutes I was confident – and then it was magic!”