Exoskeleton robots help the paralyzed walk

Exoskeleton devices were being demonstrated Monday, May 6, 2013, at the annual meeting of the American Spinal Injury Association in Chicago.
May 6, 2013 3:44:10 PM PDT
Exoskeleton robots. They're not just for "Iron Man" any more.

They're here and they're helping the paralyzed walk.

But these high-tech devices have had a rough start.. with design issues and huge cost barriers.

Now, the latest on the scene is sleeker and more user-friendly. What was once called impossible is now considered inevitable.

When Michael Gore first saw the exoskeleton robot called Indego, he had some doubts. But the 41-year-old is now a believer and a spokesperson for the company behind the device.

Gore was paralyzed in 2002 when he fell on his back at work. He never expected to be up and moving again.

Powered exoskeletons have been around for a decade. But they keep evolving and getting closer to reality for everyday use. Once strapped on, they use batteries motors and computers to put a body in motion.

The device senses the user's posture, so if a person is wearing the device and they lean forward, the device helps them walk forward in a manner similar to a Segway.

"I feel a vibration, and it steps, and then it's posture control and a slight lean forward," said Gore.

Other devices similar to the Indego are also being shown off at the American Spinal Injury Association conference in Chicago.

Higinio Laureano has been using the ReWalk system in physical therapy since January. He lost the use of his lower body when he fell off a 20-foot ladder in 2001.

Laureano says, physically and emotionally, there is no describing what it means to have a conversation once again with someone eye-to-eye.

"It's the closest to normal you can get with this thing," said Laureano. "Sometimes I even forget i have it on."

Cost, ease of use, even safety issues are hurdles the manufacturers are getting closer to solving.

The Indego claims to now be the lightest and slimmest, so a person could use it right from their wheelchair.

The devices are not yet approved for personal use in the U.S., meaning no one can just take them home and use them. But the hope is a couple will be on the market by next year.

Cost is a huge issue, with price tags estimated to range from $60,000-$100,000.


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