It seems as if people in wheelchairs may be getting a little help from the military these day. A Defense Department program to develop super-human soldiers has led private company Ekso Bionics to create a wearable robot that enables paraplegics to walk. Ekso Bionics’ Iron Man-style exoskeletons have been quietly tested over the past year, at 10 different rehab centers and the results have been amazing!
The exoskeleton in development is a wearable suit with exterior robot components that allows a wheelchair user to stand up and walk. It could be a life changing technology not only for soldiers injured in battle, but for people with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, lower extremity weakness or paralysis due to neurological disease or spinal injury.
Ekso Bionics has a goal of making an exoskeleton that is as easy to wear as a pair of jeans, and with more than 2 million people in wheelchairs that is going to translate to a lot of suits.
Ekso Bionics CEO Eythor Bender was quoted as saying
“Making a robot itself is difficult enough. To add that to the body and put it on like a pair of jeans is a whole other level,”
The exoskeleton has four electric motors that replicate a person’s hips and knees. Fifteen sensors are networked with a computer that sits on the user’s back and acts as a “brain.” A battery pack provides four hours of endurance.
It is not as simple as giving all people in wheelchairs an exoskeleton. A candidate must have the upper body strength to transfer from a wheelchair to a regular chair and to balance with crutches in order to use the exoskeleton.
It is not cheap to use an exoskeleton. The exoskeleton currently costs $150,000, which is a bargain for the ability to walk.