Ekso Bionics recently developed a piece of equipment that will help paraplegics stand up and possibly take their first steps since their spinal cord injury, according to Inhabitat. The Eksoskeleton, which is essentially a motorized bodysuit, puts the patient in control of the movements, increases muscle strength, and improves balance. Developers will sell the suit to rehab clinics for patients to train under doctor’s supervision, and the company plans to release a model for daily living by late 2013.
The Ekso suit allows patients full control and support while they balance their upper body. Users shift their weight with the help of walking sticks, which are complete with motion sensors that communicate to the robotic legs. Doctors can set the device to a training mode that provides audio feedback when the user achieves the ideal lateral and forward shift required for a step.
With a choice of three walk modes, the device can be changed depending on the patient’s level. ProStep, which is the mode patients are striving towards, requires users to take steps by moving their hips forward and shifting them laterally. Statistics and data from walking sessions are automatically gathered and can be retrieved through a web server.
CEO of Ekso Bionics, Eythor Bender, explains the company’s process in developing the Ekso suit: “We took the idea of the external skeleton, and we added nerves in the form of sensors and motors that represent your muscles and computers that represent your brain.”
Carolina Hatton, a 22-year-old who was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident islearning how to walk with the device at UC Health. The hospital was able to obtain the Eksoskeleton because a man, who remained anonymous but is reported to have also suffered a spinal cord injury, donated the device’s full cost of $140,000.
Although the possibility of a suit that patients can use in their home is a year or so away, doctors and patients are hopeful about the benefits of the Ekso suit in the clinics. UC Health physical therapist, Paige Thomas, explains that the bodysuit isn’t going to fully replace the wheelchair yet, but “it gives folks who are not able to stand another option.”