Ekso Bionics is one of several cutting-edge companies offering paraplegics the chance to walk again. The Berkeley, California-based business produces the Ekso, a motorized exoskeleton that allows patients to walk in an upright position with the help of a pair of crutches.
At this point, the company has sold its initial offering to rehabilitation centers across the U.S. A feature in Fast Company, a progressive business publication, also points out that the company has licensed its technology for military applications to Lockheed Martin.
However, the article points out that the company envisions selling their product to a wide variety of users, including workers and consumers who want their physical abilities enhanced. Because the need for paralyzed individuals is so much greater, though, the company will continue to develop this technology for them first.
Fast Company does note that this technology does not come without some problems. There is a strong chance insurers will refuse to reimburse much of the cost of the Ekso, as they did with an advanced wheelchair in 2003. That product was deemed “not medically necessary” by Medicare. This, combined with its current price tag of $130,000, means that this innovation’s fate remains precarious.
Furthermore, the article points out that “People who suffer a spinal-cord injury often reject the notion that they are broken and need to be fixed.” Patients may take exception to this technology, which risks sending the message that life in a wheelchair can be improved upon.
Nevertheless, an ABC News article from this week points out that the standing position is actually important to our physical health. The article describes another device, Tek Robotic Mobilization Device, which allows patients to stand. The news source notes that confinement to a wheelchair’s seated position “increases the risk of blood clots, blood pressure abnormalities and kidney and urinary problems.”
The article also describes the psychological benefits of standing. According to ABC, a psychologist who works with patients undergoing physical rehabilitation notes that “giving paraplegics the same independence as their able-bodied peers vastly improves their quality of life.” Another rehabilitation specialist claims that the simple act of standing at eye-level with others is a natural desire people feel which those with full use of their legs tend to take for granted.
The Tek Robotic Mobilization Device also comes with a relatively steep price tag of $15,000, which also makes this technology less accessible to all patients, particularly if it encounters insurance coverage obstacles. However, it first remains to be seen how consumers will welcome these emerging technologies, which may actually prove as much of a deciding factor in their success than the price tag or technological limitations.