Most paraplegics dream of walking again. A pair of robot trousers could make this dream a reality. A revolutionary exoskeleton, which was unveiled at the UK’s largest technology exhibition for the disabled, Naidex National, allows paraplegics to stand and walk up stairs.
The pioneering bionic device, called ReWalk, is the brainchild of engineer Amit Goffer, founder of Argo Medical Technologies, a small Israeli high-tech company. He said the RoboCop-style suit would be an ideal device for injured British soldiers.The system, which requires crutches to help with balance, consists of motorized leg supports, body sensors and a back pack containing a computerized control box and rechargeable batteries.
The user picks a setting with a remote control wrist band – stand, sit, walk, descend or climb – and then leans forward, activating the body sensors and setting the robotic legs in motion.
The technology has already been put into use in a specialist spinal injuries unit in Italy, following extensive testing. A consumer version should be on the way later in the year, allowing people to use the system in their own homes.The suit is on display at the NEC in Birmingham.
Cyclone Technologies is to introduce the system to the UK. It’s managing director, Dave Hawkins said: ‘For a paraplegic like myself it means everything. It means I can look my kids in the eye stood up, of means I can give my girlfriend a cuddle. It means you can do normal things like going to a gig and standing up to watch.
‘We are marketing it towards the military. It would be fantastic for people returning injured from Afghanistan to find they’re not stuck as a paraplegic. Towards the end of this year we shall have a personal model that will be tailored to match an individual’s physical capability, following medical assessment and training in a rehabilitation centre.’
The system will be available for £50,000 to personal users by the start of 2012. According to Mr Hawkins, he has already potential users expressing interest, including the British Armed Forces. Radi Kaiof is an Israeli who is trained to use the device. He lost the use of his legs while serving in the Israeli army.
‘For me it is amazing, the freedom, to be told I can walk after I thought I could never walk again is brilliant,’ he said. ‘I have been using it for two years now, it has changed my life, I can live normally again.’ It only took five two-hour sessions for Radi to be completely trained on the system.
Rather than forcing the user into motion the system gives them complete control of the device. From a wrist watch Radi selects what he wants to do, stand, sit, walk, ascend, and then uses his body movement to control. After choosing to walk all he needs to do is lean forward and off he goes. Stopping is a simple matter of stopping leaning forward.
There are several medical benefits to using the device. ‘Being sat down all the time creates loads of problems,’ said Mr Hawking. ‘It crushes your internal organs, being able to stand means life is much more comfortable.
‘Being sat down when you want to stand causes horrible mental anguish as well. It causes depression and suicides have become far too common. ‘Just the feeling if standing helps you live immeasurably.’ [via The Telegraph (UK), Daily Mail (UK)]