Exoskeleton vision becomes blue print reality for Burnley student
As UCLan’s new £35 million Engineering Innovation Centre establishes itself as a key driver for economic growth both in the region and nationally, a teenager from Lancashire has already seen first-hand the way it will help to turn life-changing ideas into reality.
Taking part in a competition to find the next generation of young engineers, Krystyna Marshall, 17, from Burnley invented a cost-effective way to support a young family member with a life-altering spinal condition.
The invention allows children like her cousin, who is living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), to live a more conventional life by wearing an engineered jacket which supports their skeleton and gives extra strength to their back muscles and spine.
Turning her design into a proof-of-concept was problematic however, as the amount of metal needed to create the exoskeleton would make the design too expensive and heavy.
With the help of UCLan’s School of Engineering, a 3D exoskeleton was printed, drastically reducing both the cost and weight of the final prototype. Additionally, by 3D printing the prototype, repairs to the exoskeleton can be completed much quicker and at a fraction of the cost of a metal structure.
Krystyna said: “By making this design a reality, a new world can be opened up to children with spinal conditions. The invention allows them to carry out simple tasks that were previously impossible, such as sitting up in bed or tying their shoelaces. For children with SMA, this is life changing.”
"The solutions that we will be able to develop at the new EIC will have real world benefits to thousands of people in Lancashire and around the world, not just in healthcare but across the entire business sector too."
Dr Matthew Dickinson, Senior Lecturer at UCLan’s School of Engineering, added: “This SMA exoskeleton is a perfect example of the way that engineering can have a direct impact on people’s lives. The solutions that we will be able to develop at the new EIC will have real world benefits to thousands of people in Lancashire and around the world, not just in healthcare but across the entire business sector too.”
The competition was part of the Leadership Award, run by Primary Engineers, which asked young people between the ages of three and 19 what they would do if they were an engineer.
Dr Susan Scurlock MBE, Founder and CEO of Primary Engineer, said: “Waiting in the wings of Primary Engineer has always been the thought that one day one of those involved in the programme will achieve our vision of making the world a better place to be. That has been achieved, to staggering effect, by Krystyna Marshall and Dr Matt Dickinson at UCLan who, through the Leaders Award, have changed the way suffers of SMA will be treated – without doubt making their world a significantly better place to be. We are very proud to have played a part in this amazing story.”
Identified as a signature project within Lancashire’s Strategic Economic Plan, the EIC has secured £10.5 million via the Lancashire Enterprise Partnerships’ Growth Deal with the Government. The new facility has also received £5.8 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and £5 million from HEFCE’s STEM Capital Fund.