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Please tell us about yourself

Hi, my name is Anirudh Bisht. I obtained my Bachelors in Electronics and Communication from Ambedkar Institute of Advanced Communication Technologies and Research, India (AIACT&R). I am following the Embedded Systems masters course at Delft University of Technology, Netherlands. I joined Project March to work on an additional project during my masters and it has been a great experience.

Tell us about Project March

Project MARCH is the student team of the Delft University of Technology that is developing an innovative and versatile exoskeleton, which is a motorized robotic armor, that can be used to let people with a spinal cord injury stand up and walk again. At this moment, the biomedical technology regarding exoskeletons is underdeveloped, so that people with paralyzed or malfunctioning legs are bounded to wheelchairs for the rest of their lives. Project MARCH wants a change!

The vision of Project MARCH is to give back full mobility to physically disabled people who have a paralyzed lower body due to illness or an accident causing them to be bounded to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives with all its inconveniences. Simple daily activities such as doing groceries, walking stairs or going to the toilet are often challenging or even impossible for them. By giving back full freedom of movement, the paraplegic experiences not only the practical benefits of autonomy like going wherever he wants to go himself, but he or she will also be able to communicate at eye-level with friends and family again, rather than constantly being “looked down”. In addition, the paraplegic’s health condition improves significantly by using an exoskeleton. For example, their bones and muscles become stronger, the risk of thrombosis decreases, the bowel function improves, and they experience less pain in their back. The dependency of care providers and insurers decreases. Although the project is currently only focusing on people with a spinal cord injury, our project could be further extended in the future to patients that suffer from MS or ALS, or people who have had a work accident.

The goal of Project MARCH is to design and build an exoskeleton for paraplegics that can accomplish the six obstacles of the Cybathlon within ten minutes. The Cybathlon is a competition for bionic para-athletes where commercial and academic teams compete with an exoskeleton to complete the six obstacles of the competition as quick as possible. These obstacles are designed as imitations of daily life obstacles for wheelchair users.

What is your role in this project?

I am part of the Electrical team at Project March. My course work as an Embedded Systems masters is focused on the Networking and Communication of devices, and this nicely complements my current role at Project March which is developing the communication electronics for the Exoskeleton. The communication between the different joints of the exoskeleton is an important aspect, as synchronisation amongst these joints is crucial to the stability of the exoskeleton. We use an industrial grade communication protocol called EtherCAT to ensure that the communication is both fast and in real-time.

I see my time at project march as consisting of three distinct phases. During the first phase my time was spent understanding the communication technologies. This involved reading a lot of technical documents and datasheets of components we were choosing for use in the exoskeleton and ensuring that they were a good match for the specification we wished to achieve. I also spent time familiarising myself with the work of the previous year’s team and general requirements of the exoskeleton.

My next phase of work involved implementing the communication system on a prototype system. This part involved a lot of coding and debugging on the mBED microcontroller. During this part my knowledge of Serial communication systems like SPI, and Programming languages like C were used to develop the prototype. Since the code libraries for interfacing our communication system to the mBed did not exist, I was also given the task to port the libraries from PIC microcontroller to the mBED.

How will this project help you?

And recently in my third phase of Project March I have been working on designing the PCBs that we are going to be using for our communication system. In this phase I have been learning a new EDA(Electronic Design Automation Tool) called Altium, Since I have previously used other EDA tools like gEDA and Eagle CAD I had a easy time getting familiar with Altium and am currently in the process of developing a PCB that will be used in the Exoskeleton. As an engineer it is important to have working knowledge of other disciplines, This was particularly true as designing a PCB for an Exoskeleton involves thinking about other factors like fixture position, the enclosure it will be in and the environment it is expected to work in. This is where working in a multi disciplinary team like Project March is very advantageous as the right people to ask questions are always close-by.

I also had the opportunity to be involved in a couple of company visits with the team, These visits were very informative and a good introduction to work ongoing in the Industry. As an Embedded Systems Engineer I had assumed I was going to be involved in a lot of hardware and software level electronics work. At Project March I am involved in precisely that kind of work which I find enjoyable and rewarding to work with, and this validates my decision to follow an Embedded Systems Masters program.

Being an international student The Netherlands was a new and alien country, but instead of being homesick I feel right at home working on things I love, amongst people I can relate to.