Inventor of children's exoskeleton Elena García Armada wins Popular Prize at the European Inventor Award 2022
- Spanish robotics engineer is voted public's favourite in online poll
- García invented the world's first adaptable paediatric exoskeleton that can help paralysed children to walk and reduce muscle degradation
- Award winner announced by European Patent Office at hybrid ceremony
Munich, 21 June 2022 - Spanish robotics engineer Elena García Armada today received the Popular Prize of the European Inventor Award 2022 for her adaptable exoskeleton to help paralysed children walk. The scientist from the Spanish National Research Council, whose invention was inspired by meeting a young girl named Daniela who was paralysed in a traffic accident, received the most votes from the general public in an online poll.
"The public vote for Elena García Armada honours 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 European Patent Office. "Her invention opens up the experience of walking during rehabilitation sessions to children who may otherwise not be able to do so, and offers hope to many who have been waiting for new treatment possibilities for years."
The Popular Prize was awarded by the European Patent Office at the hybrid European Inventor Award 2022 ceremony, which also honoured winners in five other categories, as well as young inventors.
From 17 May until 21 June, the public was invited to vote online for their favourite inventor or inventor team from among the 13 finalists of the 2022 European Inventor Award. García received the most votes from more than 23 000 votes cast.
Intelligent mechanical joints that help children walk
Although adult exoskeletons have been around since the 1960s, no one had developed one for children until García began looking at the problem in 2009. However, there was a clear need for such a device, as young wheelchair users risk early-age muscle degradation and deformities of the spine, which can ultimately shorten their lifespan.
García saw that the challenge was bigger than just re-sizing the robotics to fit a smaller body. Because children are often unable to walk due to neurological conditions and have complex symptoms in terms of joint motions, a paediatric exoskeleton needed to be adaptable and adjust its function to the symptoms of a particular child.
Having previously focused on industrial robotics, García switched her focus to paediatrics and invented an adjustable suit of titanium connected to a battery and a network of small motors with sensors, software and machinery. The resulting mechanical joints adapt intelligently to the motion of each child as their rehabilitation progresses. The exoskeleton allows children using wheelchairs to walk during rehabilitation sessions, reducing muscle degradation and medical complications, and can also improve mental wellbeing and sociability.
In 2013, García ran her first trials with Daniela, whose face lit up as she used it, and also founded a company, Marsi Bionics, to further develop the technology. In 2021, she secured medical clearance for the invention and has since sold devices to hospitals in Spain and Mexico. Even as the company grows, she never forgets the original inspiration for the invention. "I, and all my team, get all our energy from the smiles of the kids," says García.
Notes to the editor
Elena García Armada studied industrial engineering at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, Spain, where she obtained her PhD in robotics in 2002. She conducted early research at the Leg Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has since worked at the Centre for Automation and Robotics (CAR) at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). García has been recognised by numerous awards, including the Innova Award in 2014, the CEPY prize in 2015 for entrepreneurial projects, the ABC Health Award for the best health technology in 2016, the Gold Medal of the City of Madrid in 2018, Fermina Orduña Technology Innovation Award 2021, and the European Innovation Council Woman Innovator Award 2021.
About the European Inventor Award
The European Inventor Award is one of Europe's most prestigious innovation prizes. Launched by the EPO in 2006, the award honours individuals and teams' solutions to some of the biggest challenges of our times. The finalists and winners are selected by an independent jury comprising former Award finalists. Together, they examine the proposals for their contribution towards technical progress, social and sustainable development and economic prosperity. The EPO confers the Award in five categories (Industry, Research, SMEs, Non-EPO countries and Lifetime achievement). In addition, the public selects the Popular Prize winner from the 13 finalists by voting on the EPO website in the run-up to the ceremony.
This year, for the first time, the EPO is also awarding bright young minds with the Young Inventors prize. The new prize offers a monetary reward to the three finalists to further encourage them to find creative solutions to pressing sustainable development challenges.
About the EPO
With 6 400 staff, the European Patent Office (EPO) is one of the largest public service institutions in Europe. Headquartered in Munich with offices in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague and Vienna, the EPO was founded with the aim of strengthening co-operation on patents in Europe. Through the EPO's centralised patent granting procedure, inventors are able to obtain high-quality patent protection in up to 44 countries, covering a market of some 700 million people. The EPO is also the world's leading authority in patent information and patent searching.
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