Scientists in the Netherlands are using robotic legs to try to improve the movement of stroke patients. The prototype device is called the Lower-extremity Powered ExoSkeleton, or LOPES, and works by training the body and mind of a patient to recover a more natural step. The machine is also being tested on spinal injury patients who have recovered some restricted movement in their legs. It is hoped a commercial version could be made available to rehabilitation centres around the world as early as next year. LOPES has been developed by engineers at the University of Twente in Enschede in the Netherlands over several years. Designed for the rehabilitation clinic, it is not a mobile device but supports the patient as they walk on a treadmill. It can do all the walking for the patient, or it can offer targeted support in either one leg or with one element of the walking process. The machine can also detect what the patient is doing wrong. For instance, some people cannot lift their foot up appropriately, explains Dr Edwin van Asseldonk, who is working on the project. What this device does is it senses that the foot is not lifting properly. It then compares it with a reference pattern and then exerts a force or torque to assist that subject in doing it. Petra Hes is one of those testing the device. She suffered a stroke aged just 17. Years of physiotherapy have helped, but she still has what is known as a drop foot, which means she cannot lift and flex her left foot in the way she once did, or even remember how to do so. The machine provides the forces to enable her to physically move her left leg and foot the way it should move, but it also operates as a memory aid, the researchers believe. BBC