SuitX Unveils Phoenix: Robotic Suit That Allows Paralyzed To Walk

With each passing day, a new innovation is altering the way humans go about their lives. Some less relevant than others; some that become an essential part of our everyday lives.

A government funded start-up named SuitX has revealed a robotic suit that will allow the paralyzed to walk again.

Phoenix is an exoskeleton that returns movement to the wearers’ hip and knees with small motors attached to standard orthotics and has mainly been utilized by patients with spinal cord injuries. The modular exoskeleton allows users to independently put on and remove the suit, which only weighs 27 lbs and is adjustable for different sized users who can also configure the suit to fit their individual conditions.

The suit’s site states that the Phoenix has been clocked at a speed of 1.1 mph (o.5 m/sec), but the actual maximum speed will depend largely on the individual user, who will be able utilize the suit on a single charge for 4 hours continuously or 8 hours intermittently.

Conveniently, the suit’s intuitive interface allows users to control standing up, sitting down, and walking and can also be worn comfortably while seated in a wheelchair.

The suit was designed by professor and CEO, Dr. H Kazerooni at the Berkeley Robotics and Human Engineering Lab at the University of California, Berkeley.

“We can’t really fix their disease. We can’t fix their injury. But what it would do is postpone the secondary injuries due to sitting,” says SuitX founder and CEO Homayoon Kazerooni. “It gives a better quality of life.”

According to MIT’s Technology in Review, Kazerooni’s main goal is to build a version of the exoskeleton that is compatible for children; Stating that children with neurological disorders require far more patience and walking training than adults.

SuitX is among a few other companies working to further exoskeleton research and provide those with mobility disabilities a means to live a more independent life. ReWalk is a similar exoskeleton that costs $70,000 and weighs around 50 pounds. With SuitX’s Phoenix priced at around $40,000, fellow companies in the industry will need to bring costs down while improving functionality in order to make the innovation appealing and affordable for individuals and possibly offer a reliable alternative to the motorized wheelchair.

According to Volker Bartenbach, an exoskeleton researcher at ETH Zurich (one of the leading international universities for technology and natural sciences), a combination of performance, price, and clinically proven benefits will be the key in designing the first widely adopted exoskeleton.

“Speed, operating time, mobility, and usability have to be good enough so that those systems are perceived as better by the user than the alternatives,” Bartenbach says. “If you need 10 minutes to walk to the bakery 300 feet away in your exoskeleton that takes five minutes to put on, you will probably use the wheelchair instead.”

Along with its Phoenix exoskeleton, SuitX also offers exoskeletons that focus on preventing injury in a workplace that requires body intensive tasks. TheMAX (Modular Agile eXoskelton) system is designed to reduce muscle force required to complete tasks by as much as 50 percent, and has been used extensively in factories, warehouses, and other strenuous labor facilities.

Their work is considered a monumental advancement in human engineering and their mission statement speaks on the hope their products will offer individuals in the near future.

“Our mission is to develop and utilize the latest research in human engineering to create accessible robotic exoskeletons that enhance the quality of human life.”

[Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]