Helping people to walk again using robotics2 Feb 2016
Over the past 5 years we've made good progress in the creation of powered exoskeletons.
Science fiction depicts exoskeletons as giving the user super human strength, speed, and endurance. The movie, Edge of Tomorrow comes to mind. We're not at that point yet, but we're making progress in their use for medical purposes. Currently aimed at helping people with spinal injuries, and neuromuscular or lower limb disabilities. These exoskeletons give movement and support back to those that have lost it.
The current generation of powered exoskeletons require the use of crutches to help the user with balance, and control of the device. They don't move fast, but for many just being able to walk around and interact with people at eye level are all that matters.
As well as the social and emotional benefits, these devices have health advantages.
When your legs are stationary for too long other parts of your body can suffer.
- You can develop problems with your cardiovascular system, and digestive system
- You can develop pressure sores and blood clots
- Your muscles begin to waste away
With the use of a powered exoskeleton your body gets some exercise. It may only be a small amount. But just being able to move around helps a lot in reducing the effects of your legs being immobile.
Due to the current price you probably won't find too many of these outside of hospitals or rehabilitation clinics. But the companies making them expect that eventually people will be able to buy them for home and personal use.
In their current states exoskeletons aren't at a point where they can replace the wheelchair entirely. The weight needs to be reduced and the battery life extended. But one day I think we'll reach the point where these machines will give everyone the ability to walk if they want to.
I'll admit the thought of one day being able to ditching my AFOs in favour of a powered exoskeleton does sound exciting.
If you're interested in seeing one such powered exoskeleton in action, watch this video - ReWalk Exoskeleton from ReWalk Robotics