A small boy wearing Trexo Robotics assistive technology smiles as a helper shows him a tablet display
University of Toronto startup Trexo Robotics is designing innovative assistive technology that supports children with physical disabilities as they take their first steps.
Learning to walk is a rite of passage for infant children. But what happens when a child is born with a physical disability? Can they use miniature versions of adult mobility devices to help them walk?
When considering this question, graduate students Manmeet Maggu and Rahul Udasi, who founded their startup, Trexo Robotics, as members of the University of Toronto Entrepreneurship community, discovered that the answer is no. Adults who use mobility devices usually learned to walk as a child, developing the bones and muscles required to crawl, stand, balance and ultimately propel themselves forward. Children born with physical disabilities are often unable to go through these developmental steps. If they are to walk, they require technology that helps them learn the motions rather than a device that simply powers their legs.
Inspired by Maggu’s nephew Praneit, who has cerebral palsy, the two entrepreneurs were determined to find a solution. They developed a child-sized wearable robotic device at the University of Toronto. In the summer of 2016, the pair packed the device, which they called Trexo Home, in a suitcase and took it to India to visit Maggu’s brother and family.
Praneit tried out the device in his family’s living room. “Watching Praneit take his first steps using our device was an incredibly proud moment for us,” Maggu says.
Trexo Robotics’s vision to help children living with physical challenges swap their wheelchair for a walker-like device equipped with robotic “Iron Man” leg attachments has attracted international attention. In 2018, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) initiated a research pilot with the Trexo Plus, which is the clinical version of the Trexo device, designed to work as a tool for gait training.
“CCHMC is ranked second among children’s hospitals, so getting recognition from them was really amazing for us,” Maggu says.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, children with disabilities were not able to access their regular physical therapy. Trexo continued production to get their product into the hands of more families for use at home, while moving their training online and creating a resource guide to help families access teletherapy where possible. They also pivoted their 3D printing resources to make and donate face shields, ear guards and mask straps for hospitals.
“Our product incorporates aspects of health care, computer science and engineering, not to mention the business side, so the fact that U of T can offer a number of accelerators with different expertise benefited us immensely,” says Maggu. “Without the U of T Entrepreneurship environment, Trexo simply would not be where it is today.”