September 5, 2012
Robotic Exoskeleton Helps Paralyzed Woman Walk Again
Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
A paraplegic woman from the United Kingdom who was paralyzed due to an accident with a horse was the first woman to use a robotic exoskeleton suit that allows her to walk.
According to Reuters, Claire Lomas, who lit the fire at Trafalgar Square to commence the Paralympics in London, is the first to utilize the ReWalk suit for home use and everyday tasks. A previous accident had left her paralyzed from the chest down. Recently, she used the suit to run in the London Marathon, finishing the race in 17 days and fundraising approximately 200,000 pounds ($317,900) for spinal damage studies.
“Doing the marathon was hard work and mentally very challenging because I couldn´t feel my legs and you have to concentrate on each step. But it was a great experience,” commented Lomas in an article by The Standard. “I never gave up on walking again. I was in training for 12 weeks with the suit, but I have also been on the treadmill with people helping me walk.”
With this revolutionary new technology, Lomas believes that completing daily activities is her favorite experience.
"One of the best experiences was standing at a bar," Lomas told Reuters. "To be stood up in this means everything to me."
The Standard reported "the suit helps move her knees and hips to let her walk, stand or sit at the flick of a button through a computer-based control system and motion sensors."
“At the moment I use it as a rehab tool and also socially. I will use it to go out if I want to do any public speaking or social events or parties where people are standing up. With the help of the ReWalk I am able to stand, walk, talk to my friends and family eye-to-eye, and exercise in ways that I have not been able to since my injury,” mentioned Lomas in the Standard article.
The suit was developed by Argo Medical Technology and the company´s executive, Larry Jasinski, was originally hesitant about supporting Lomas´s participation in the marathon as the suit was still in development. However, Lomas believed that the suit helped her get through the race. An individual is able to take a step in the suit by tilting the balance, supporting the body weight, and allowing the person to move up or down a flight of stairs. Though the suit is priced at 45,000 pounds, the scientists believe that ongoing clinical studies could encourage authorities to fund parts of the device and also savings on treatment due to inactivity could help lower the cost. Some of the effects of inactivity include loss of bone density, difficulties related to poor posture and pressure sores. Treatments for these problems could cost from $500,000 to $3 million over a lifetime.
Lastly, research on exoskeletons has been developed within the last 50 years but only recent advances in software management systems and sensors have helped propel the technology forward and made the suits more practical. Argo Medical Technology believes that the technology could be utilized by 250,000 wheelchair users in the U.S. and in Europe. U.S. research company ABI supports this statistic, stating that the new technology could reap $320 million in 10 years.