Exoskeleton Lets Paraplegics Walk (video)
In 2008, Argo Medical Technologies stunned the world by demonstrating an exoskeleton that could help paraplegics walk again. The ReWalk system, developed by Dr. Amit Goffer in Israel, attaches to the legs and serves as a sort of vertical walking wheelchair. Patients use crutches to help guide them while wearing ReWalk, and the exoskeleton knows when to take each step by monitoring upper body movements and shifts in center of gravity. Seeing people who are wheelchair bound suddenly stand up and walk is stunning to say the least. Now, almost two years later, the ReWalk is getting renewed media coverage. Good Morning America ran a segment in February featuring the US clinical trials at Moss Rehab, other news outlets picked up the story, and there have been new videos popping up of past ReWalk performances. There's good reason for the interest - Argo has maintained that 2010 will see the widespread commercial launch of the exoskeleton. We've got the GMA segment, and a good look at an Israeli patient from Diagonal UK for you below.
Unlike many other exoskeletons we've seen, ReWalk isn't cued by nerve signals or muscle movements (myoelectrics). Obviously when working with paraplegics this makes sense as the appropriate nerve signals are unlikely to be present or easily controlled. ReWalk is also unique in that it fully replaces leg support for its users. Many exoskeletons are designed to bear the wearers weight, but none (that I know of) act as essentially autonomous limbs. On that note, I would like to express some respectful skepticism to the statement on the Argo website that ReWalk will feature "all day usage." Unless you're changing batteries regularly I don't see how a single charge could carry the necessary power for a full day of walking. Still, there's no doubt that ReWalk could provide a remarkable experience for its users. Upright mobility bestows health benefits as legs are exercised while the exoskeleton walks, and there are certain social benefits that arise from standing as well. Stay tuned with us through the year and we'll keep you up to date on if or when Argo announces a firm launch date, pricing, and availability.