Exoskeleton helping disabled to walk

Jan. 6, 2012 at 7:20 PM
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DETROIT, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- Progress in robotics, including the first generation of wearable robotic skeletons, is helping paralyzed people become more independent, U.S. scientists say.

One example is the Ekso Bionics exoskeleton being tested at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan, part of the Detroit Medical Center. The institute is one of 10 leading U.S. rehabilitation therapy centers testing the exoskeleton, the Detroit Free Press reported Friday.

The device, propelled by electrical impulses and robotic sensors that help keep users upright and gently propel them forward, straps around them so they walk with a walker one step at a time.

Although it will eventually be lighter and more adaptable for private use, it currently is limited to centers like the rehabilitation institute participating in the Ekso Bionics study.

It should be available this year for consumers to purchase for their personal use, a spokeswoman for the company, based in Berkeley, Calif., said.

However, the device currently costs about $100,000 and is unlikely to be covered by insurance.

Still, the technology has benefits for both patients and therapists when compared with other types of electrical stimulation devices for spinal cord recovery, and the technology is bound to improve, experts say.

"The opportunity in the next 10 years should be endless," Ekso physical therapist Darrell Musick said. The devices "should be lighter, faster, more fluid, better turning and more functional."

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