Introducing the First Bionic Clothing

Using AI to enhance mobility.

Aug 17, 2022
Introducing the First Bionic Clothing | Using AI to enhance mobility.

When most people think of bionics they envision something futuristic like the Six Million Dollar Man. But today, it is a reality.  Bionics are playing a big role in helping people’s mobility through implants, prosthetics, and now wearable neural sleeves.

Cionic , a San Francisco, California startup, has developed—  with the help of the design studio Fuseproject –  a wearable bionic designed to be wrapped around legs that uses electrical pulses and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help people who have difficulty walking, according to dezeen

The neural sleeve was designed to help people who have mobility issues due to strokes, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, or spinal cord injuries. “Think of it as a way to sort of remote control your own leg,” Yves Béhar from Fuseproject told Dezeen.

In the beginning
While people with limited mobility have used canes, walkers, and braces to help them walk, these passive devices can only do so much. The new bionic sleeve can do so much more, by integrating with the wearer's musculoskeletal system through a process called functional electrical stimulation (FES), reported Forbes.

Cionic’s founder and CEO Jeremiah Robison, first learned about FES after his daughter was diagnosed with cerebral palsy in 2010. He used his experience working with AI to access the various FES systems that were being used in clinical practices they visited. She received one when she was nine.

While FES systems have been around for several decades, external ones are very difficult to use because of the wires and electrodes that have to be placed in very specific locations.  Robison decided that he could create something that was both functional and wearable. That’s why he teamed up with Béhar.

“Through our design process, which involved the development of over 50 prototypes, we learned just how critical — and nuanced — ease of use is for people with limited mobility,” Béhar told Forbes. “The crux of the design centers on a donning and doffing sequence that prioritizes the positioning and placement of the electrodes responsible for delivering the electric pulse stimulation.”

The Neural Sleeve
The results are an FDA certified medical device that consists of a fabric sleeve that wraps around the leg and places electrodes just above the muscles that are used for movement, according to dezeen. There is a receptor module that is located in a pocket located on the thigh. The receptor studies how the wearer moves and transfers the information to the electrodes via an app, similar to other FES systems.

But, while traditional FES usually just stimulates the muscles that control lifting people’s toes up off the ground to initiate walking, the Neural Sleeve actually works on multiple muscle groups at the same time, reported Forbes. This allows for a more natural gait.

The sleeve can be configured in less than an hour remotely via a tele appointment with a Cionic technician and there are follow-up appointments. The company will be monitoring these early uses to augment clinical trial data. The wearable sleeve will be available in 2023.

What’s next?
The Neural Sleeve is just the beginning, Robison told Forbes. He believes that the best place to start is with the people who have a real need for the technology.

First with legs and then with other body parts. “Now, we have something where there's a real tangible benefit that justifies this first garment and that should allow us to further build our knowledge and continue to iterate,” he said

“With more than 35 million Americans living with mobility impairments, the need for customizable full-spectrum solutions is growing – particularly within the aging population,” the company said on its website.

But looking even further ahead, Robison believes that bionic clothing will soon become commonplace, like the rise in consumer-grade fitness tracking devices. He told Forbes, “One day all clothing will have the ability to analyze and assist the body and our wearing habits will eventually adapt to the technology.” This future could be the new reality very soon

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Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.