August 26, 2008
‘Robot Suit’ Helps Paralyzed People Walk
Many paralytic patients are getting the chance to walk again, thanks to a newly developed electronic exoskeleton.
The so-called ReWalk device was developed by Amit Goffer, founder of Argo Medical Technologies, a small Israeli high-tech company. Goffer was paralyzed in 1997, but is unable to use his own invention because he doesn't have full function of his arms.
ReWalk resembles a combination of the exoskeleton of a crustacean and the suit worn by comic hero Iron Man. It allows paraplegics to stand, walk and climb stairs.
"I never dreamed I would walk again. After I was wounded, I forgot what it's like," said 41-year-old Radi Kaiof, who was injured while serving in the Israeli military in 1988.
"Only when standing up can I feel how tall I really am and speak to people eye to eye, not from below."
Through using a wristband, patients can choose from a setting "“ stand, sit, walk, descend or climb.
"It raises people out of their wheelchair and lets them stand up straight," Goffer said. "It's not just about health, it's also about dignity."
Kate Parkin, director of physical and occupational therapy at NYU Medical Centre, said it has the potential to improve a user's health in two ways.
"Physically, the body works differently when upright. You can challenge different muscles and allow full expansion of the lungs," Parkin said. "Psychologically, it lets people live at the upright level and make eye contact."
ReWalk is expected to be sold in 2010 with a price tag of about $20,000. It is currently in clinical trials in Tel Aviv's Sheba Medical Centre and more trials are expected to take place at the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute in Pennsylvania.
Competing technologies use electrical stimulation to restore function to injured muscle, but Argo's Chief Operating Officer Oren Tamari said they will not offer practical alternatives to wheelchairs in the foreseeable future.
Other "robot suits", like those being developed by the U.S. military or the HAL robot of Japan's University of Tsukuba, are not suitable for paralyzed people, he said.
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Argo Medical Technologies
Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute