Wandercraft’s exoskeleton gains momentum

It's finally here. After three years of experiments, Atalante – the exoskeleton from Wandercraft – was officially presented for the first time at the company's Paris offices on 9 June. It was a chance to see just how far the first winner of the EDF Pulse Awards has come since 2014 – then, the robotic legs, destined to change daily life for people with motor disabilities, were just an idea from science fiction, a project in its infancy from a start-up founded by three old classmates from the École Polytechnique. Three years later, the robotics company employs 25 people, raised €4 million last year, and works with the École des Mines and Paris-Tech universities and the CNRS, the French national scientific research centre. "At every stage, at every trade show and event, EDF Pulse has supported us and offered us media exposure and a reputation boost without equal," says Matthieu Masselin, deputy director of Wandercraft. A future alternative to wheelchairs, these 35 kilograms of pure technology are a way of "giving dependent and disabled people the use of their legs". And with its 12 motors, each controlling a joint at the hips, knees or ankles, the prototype offers much greater freedom of movement than its current competitors, which are limited to 4 motors. Its performance is primarily based on a sensor belt attached to the torso area, which triggers movements in a similar way to a Segway – the upper body controls the entire device. In addition, the robotic legs benefit from increasingly precise algorithms, which can control each movement directly by flexing, closely resembling natural walking. The results: “A more flexible, intuitive way of walking, all thanks to a lighter system," says Matthieu Masselin. Atalante can regain its balance faced with obstacles and negotiate steps and pavements, and does not require the use of crutches, unlike current exoskeletons. It's a way to increase the independence of its users, beginning with paraplegics and people with degenerative diseases, including myopathy and multiple sclerosis. On the market at the end of 2017 For the robotics company and its prototype, the future is approaching fast. At the end of the year, the first patient tests will be held at one or two care homes, with patients using the exoskeleton for two hours a day for six weeks. It will be the moment of truth and a time for final adjustments thanks to feedback from the dependent users as well as the medical staff who care for them. "It will be a chance to make our technology even more mature," says Nicolas Simon, director of Wandercraft. "Then, we will need to show its therapeutic benefits during the clinical trial stage. And these benefits for people who are not independent, such as patients at rehabilitation centres or the elderly, include better blood circulation and improved intestinal transit as well as helping to reduce osteoporosis, and more." The aim is to put the first systems on the market from the end of 2017. Wandercraft wins First Prize ("Gold") At Grand Prix de l'Innovation Digitale [Great Awards of Digital Innovation], in the category "Community transformation". More about [in French] To go furtherWandercraft : walking again without crutches

“An award that proves that our project is sound”

The surgical simulator start-up Biomodex is one of the three winners of the 2016 EDF Pulse Awards. And it's given an extra boost to this young company, founded in August 2014 by Sidarth Radjou and Thomas Marchand, which now has a total of around twenty employees at its Paris headquarters, where R&D takes place, and its commercial office in Boston, USA. What is Biomodex's ambition? Thomas Marchand : We develop synthetic organs that surgeons can use to practise by simulating surgery. Using medical imaging from a given patient, we can print an exact copy of the organ to be treated, with the same properties of shape and elasticity – meaning that the surgeon can repeat the operation. We are also involved in training, offering them highly realistic training conditions. In this respect, we offer an alternative to the use of human bodies that have been bequeathed to medicine or of animals, as well as an alternative to surgery mentoring (when a 'junior' surgeon is assisted by a senior surgeon during real operations – Ed.). In addition, we offer custom-made parts, which are useful for pre-operation training prior to delicate operations. What advantages does using 3D simulations of bodies bring? There are many issues at stake. Of course, there's the ethical issue, but there's also the question of logistics, as we produce plastic items that are easy to store, unlike anatomical parts from cadavers, which require a complicated process to preserve the body. Another advantage is that we can choose the illness or problem the surgeon wants to practise. For example, we can reproduce a specific arm or leg fracture when a teacher wants to give a particular lesson. Finally, 3D simulation of bodies is not only an alternative, but it is often the only method of training, particularly for paediatric illnesses, whether congenital or not. This is because the law does not allow minors to donate their bodies to medical science. What technical difficulties do you still have to overcome? Moving from medical imaging to 3D printing means that we need to integrate the biomechanical qualities of the tissue – elasticity, hardness, softness, etc. That's where the main difficulty to be worked on lies. After winning the 2016 EDF Pulse Awards, what does the future have in store for you? We're delighted to receive support from two very major groups. From the beginning, we were supported by Dassault Systèmes, and benefited from its expertise in software and 3D technology. Now it's EDF's turn to support us. It proves that our project is sound. And now that we've won the EDF Pulse Award after an in-depth selection process and the public vote, it shows that our innovation really speaks to a lot of people. During the selection process, we also benefited from coaching and training seminars with the EDF Pulse Agency, which worked to teach us how to showcase our project and to spread the word to a very wide audience. It was also an opportunity to meet a range of other start-ups, whether they were competitors or not. And now, thanks to this award, we're hoping to enjoy exceptional communication reach and to be introduced to a top-level ecosystem. What are the next steps in Biomodex's development? We're getting ready to strengthen our business across the world, more specifically in the United States. We already have a presence in France, Belgium, Germany, Russia, Australia, and Japan. After initial fundraising of €3.2 million in April, we are planning a second round of fundraising in September 2017 to continue our development in the United States, which accounts for over half of the global health sector. To go further Biomodex: simulation precedes operation, thanks to 3D printingAnd the three winners of the third EDF Pulse Awards are...