Robotic exoskeleton lets paraplegics walk again

Robotic exoskeleton lets paraplegics walk again
Six people with traumatic spinal cord injuries have begun testing an innovative exoskeleton developed by Californian firm Ekso Bionics.

The battery powered, robotic Ekso suit is designed to let wheelchair users stand and walk. Originally created for the US military, its electronic legs replicate walking by bending the user's knees and lifting their legs.

The six participants involved in the one week trial were aged between 27 and 45 and had durations of injury from four months to two years. Five of the patients were paraplegics, while one was a quadriplegic.

The preliminary testing, monitored by the Kessler Foundation, was said to provide key information that will go towards providing protocol development, including selection criteria for individuals with spinal cord injury.

"We will look at the effects of standing and walking for people with paralysis due to spinal cord injury," said senior research scientist Dr Gail Forrest. "Whether there are physiologic changes taking place, and what those changes mean in terms of functional improvement."

While the current model is remotely controlled by an operator walking behind the user, the company is hoping to unveil a completely autonomous version powered by artificial intelligence by next year.

In early 2012, the research team, headed Dr Forrest, will commence a clinical study in collaboration with the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.

While the study at Kessler will focus on the benefits of Ekso in rehabilitation settings, Ekso Bionics also plans to explore the potential for home and community use.

Laura Hopperton

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