Honda steps forward with walking assist device

Company begins a clinical trial of its Walking Assist Device at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago to assess its ability to help stroke patients improve mobility.

Honda's Walking Assist Device is designed to be worn over clothing.

Honda's latest foray into the world beyond cars and bikes may sound like a bit of a leap, but it's the next logical step in the company's line of personal mobility devices.

The Walking Assist Device, which we took a look at back in 2008 but ultimately dates back to 1999, has evolved from an interesting concept that might make walking a bit easier to the subject of a new clinical trial that might help stroke patients improve their mobility.

Honda announced last week that it is currently testing its battery-powered device at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. As with its humanoid bot ASIMO, Honda says its Walking Assist Device uses cooperative control tech the company developed over the course of studying the human gait. Using readings from hip angle sensors of the patient's natural gait, a control computer activates motors to improve the symmetry of the timing of each leg lift and to promote a longer stride. The simple design includes adjustable belts to fit over differently-sized people and clothing.

Meanwhile, as Honda "strives to offer the joy of mobility to more people," the company that boasts being one of the world's largest automobile manufacturers says it is already leasing 100 units to hospitals in Japan.

With stroke affecting nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. every year, and some 80 percent of those people experiencing problems walking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the assist device may be less niche than it at first seems. Honda says it has worked with research institutions in Japan throughout the development of the device to get feedback from users, physical therapists, doctors, and more. If the device performs well in clinical trials, we may finally see it trickle into use.