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US researchers create suit that can enable paraplegics to walk

An exoskeleton that allows paraplegics to walk using technology based on military research made its European debut in London last week.

Ekso Bionics (formerly Berkeley Bionics) has been trialling the electronic suit in the US since 2010 and now hopes to roll it out in rehabilitation centres and eventually homes in Europe, following its launch at the London International Technology Show.

The current Ekso model is remotely controlled by an operator walking behind the user, but the company plans to unveil a fully independent model powered by artificial intelligence next year.

The firm’s chief executive officer, Eythor Bender, told The Engineer that developing a suit that could stand up and walk was just the beginning.

‘Everything beyond this is now a possibility: make it smaller, lightweight, applications for stroke [patients], better master the balance so we can take it into people’s homes and use it in daily living,’ he said.

The suit — dubbed ‘Ekso’ — provides nearly four hours of battery power to its electronic legs, which replicate walking by bending the user’s knees and lifting their legs with what the company claims is the most natural gait available today.

When the independent model is launched it will use a series of sensors placed around the body and in the accompanying crutches to detect how the user wants it to move, using a computer to signal the legs to carry out the movements in real time.

‘The biggest challenge was developing a frame that transferred the weight completely to the ground,’ said Bender. ‘After that we started applying power to it to get more strength and increasing endurance.’

Ekso is adapted from technology developed at the University of California, Berkeley, for the US military to enable soldiers to carry heavy loads.

The original suit used hydraulic mechanisms but these have been replaced with less powerful electronic ones as the medical exoskeleton doesn’t need to support as much weight.

Readers' comments (8)

  • wow!

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  • This is a wonderful use of an original military piece of kit. It will be a miracle gadget if the price can be made a lot more affordable and developed for the disabled.

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  • at 70 next b/d and an m/s sufferer (so far in a benign form) I wonder if this 'suit' will enable me to run for a bus or run away from trouble in its various forms that plague us more and more in these halcyon days?

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  • Superb, must be very liberating for the user, positively life changing stuff.

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  • This is an excellent piece of news. I have seen paraplegics confined to bed or wheel chairs for life. This will make them self reliant and make them more mobile to travel. Hope the experiment comes to logical end soon and benefits millions of people around the world.

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  • Nice to see engineering being put to good use.

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  • Engineering has always been put to good use, roads, bridges, communication system's...the WHEEL!
    This is a fantastic breakthrough, 10 years from now wheel chairs will only be seen in musuems.

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  • Praise God and Human ingenuity!

    I am 44 hope I can buy this product by the time i'm 50. Better start saving now :-)

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