mumbai Mirror Bureau Posted On Saturday, July 17, 2010 at 03:07:39 AM Two New Zealand inventors have produced what they claim are the world’s first robotic legs to help paraplegics walk again. The bionic legs were road-tested publicly for the first time by 23-year-old Hayden Allen who was told five years ago he would never walk again after being paralysed from the chest down in a motorcycle accident. Allen said the experience of being able to stand up and walk when strapped into his robotic legs was fantastic and he felt like a normal human being again.
Before Rob Summers had a spinal cord injury, he was a pitcher for the Oregon State Beavers with a win in the College World Series under his belt. He dreamed of being a major league baseball player. Then, on July 12, 2006, a car veered into his driveway and hit him as he stood outside his house. At 20, he was paralyzed from the neck down. Though he had some feeling below the waist, doctors said he would never walk again.
A decade ago, that may have been the end of the story. But Summers, along with three other young men with spinal cord injuries, have been given a new treatment--an epidural stimulator implanted over the spinal cord--that could change the way we think about paralysis. All of these patients, once completely paralyzed from at least the chest down, can now move their legs. The treatment, described in a study published today in the research journal Brain, is the result of research from scientists at the University of Louisville, UCLA, and the Pavlov Institute of Physiology, with funding from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
It seems as if people in wheelchairs may be getting a little help from the military these day. A Defense Department program to develop super-human soldiers has led private company Ekso Bionics to create a wearable robot that enables paraplegics to walk. Ekso Bionics’ Iron Man-style exoskeletons have been quietly tested over the past year, at 10 different rehab centers and the results have been amazing!
The exoskeleton in development is a wearable suit with exterior robot components that allows a wheelchair user to stand up and walk. It could be a life changing technology not only for soldiers injured in battle, but for people with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, lower extremity weakness or paralysis due to neurological disease or spinal injury.
Ekso Bionics has a goal of making an exoskeleton that is as easy to wear as a pair of jeans, and with more than 2 million people in wheelchairs that is going to translate to a lot of suits.
Ekso Bionics CEO Eythor Bender was quoted as saying
“Making a robot itself is difficult enough. To add that to the body and put it on like a pair of jeans is a whole other level,”
The exoskeleton has four electric motors that replicate a person’s hips and knees. Fifteen sensors are networked with a computer that sits on the user’s back and acts as a “brain.” A battery pack provides four hours of endurance.
It is not as simple as giving all people in wheelchairs an exoskeleton. A candidate must have the upper body strength to transfer from a wheelchair to a regular chair and to balance with crutches in order to use the exoskeleton.
It is not cheap to use an exoskeleton. The exoskeleton currently costs $150,000, which is a bargain for the ability to walk.