Worldwide, between 250,000 and 500,000 people suffer a spinal cord injury every year. A spinal cord injury (SCI) typically causes paralysis in either the lower extremities (paraplegia) or throughout the body (quadriplegia). People with a spinal cord injury often use a wheelchair as an assistive device for mobility.

Project MARCH is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary student team from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Its goal is to develop and build advanced prototype exoskeletons that enable people with SCI to stand up and walk. The team also compete in a quadrennial sporting competition for bionic para-athletes called the ‘Cybathlon’ and a smaller annual spin-off event called the ‘Cybathlon Experience’. The purpose of these international competitions is to accelerate the development of human prosthetics, advanced wheelchairs and exoskeleton technology, in order to improve the daily lives of people with physical disabilities. 

“Renishaw and RLS did not try to sell us something we did not need. They thought about what it is that we needed and how they could help us with that. That level of interest in our project is, for me, what makes this collaboration so great.” Project March (Delft, the Netherlands)

Martine Keulen, Partnerships & PR for Project March, explains:

“Every year, a new multi-disciplinary team of students pause their studies for a year to design their own prototype exoskeleton. We do this in collaboration with a ‘pilot’—someone who has a complete spinal cord injury (paraplegia)— who controls the exoskeleton. The pilot is a wheelchair user, but once they are in the exoskeleton, they can control the exoskeleton to stand up, walk and tackle other kinds of obstacles. The Cybathlon is a competition for para-athletes who use technical assistive devices. Participants compete in an event such as a power-wheelchair race or a mind-control competition. We [Project MARCH] compete in the powered exoskeleton race which is an obstacle course where there are six obstacles lined up, one behind the other, and you must complete all the obstacles and do it as fast as possible in under 10 minutes.”

Renishaw and RLS, a Renishaw associate company, have sponsored Project MARCH since the team was founded in 2015 and provide RLS magnetic encoders for joint motor position feedback.

Project MARCH IVc exoskeleton and conventional wheelchair on the starting line