Wearable, Motorized Quasi Robotic Suit for Movement Impaired

In an inspiring example of a disabled person helping others, there is Amit Goffer, an Israeli entrepreneur, paralysed in a car crash over 10 years ago, who has invented robotic trousers that can help paraplegics walk again.

Suffering an accident in 1997 and wondering why the wheelchair is the only way for the paralyzed to get around, short of being carried, Amit Goffer immediately set out to invent a device that could replace the wheelchair. He invented the 'ReWalk', robotic trousers that use sensors and motors to allow paralysed patients to stand, walk and even climb stairs. According to media reports, the device can help paraplegics to stand and walk - using crutches for stability - when they lean forward and move their upper body in different ways, the Daily Mail reports.

The 35-pound (16-kilogram) device, is worn outside of clothing, consists of leg braces outfitted with motion sensors and motorised joints that respond to subtle changes in upper-body movement and shifts in balance. A harness around the patient's waist and shoulders keeps the suit in place, and a backpack holds the computer and rechargeable 3 1/2-hour battery. When operated, it makes clanging robotic sounds, like the hero of the 1980s cult movie 'RoboCop'.

ReWalk™ is a wearable, motorized quasi robotic suit. Image Credit: Argo Medical Technologies Ltd

Goffer founded a company, Argo Medical Technologies, to commercialise it. After several years of clinical trials in Israel and the US, units will go on sale in January to rehabilitation centres around the world.

“ReWalk is a man-machine device. The machine cannot walk by itself. The user cannot walk by himself. Only when they are together they can walk,” Argo's chief operating officer Oren Tamari said. This wonder device is most likely to restore the joy of living in many paralyzed patients.

Tamari explained that even the device is priced steep, at about $100,000, if regularly used it, would prevent costly complications that often arise in people who can't walk, including pressure sores and urinary, digestive, circulatory, and cardiovascular problems.

The ReWalk arrives at a boom time for such devices in medicine.

Argo joins several companies that have developed robotics and exoskeletons in medicine. Tibion Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif., is promoting a "Bionic Leg" quite similar to ReWalk, but intended to help stroke patients walk again. Ossur of Iceland makes a powered knee prosthesis that lets amputees walk.

ReWalk will face competition in targeting paraplegics. Last month, Berkeley Bionics of Berkeley, Calif., unveiled eLEGS and its exoskeleton will begin clinical trials early next year in rehabilitation clinics. A limited release of eLEGS is scheduled during the second half of 2011.

New Zealand-based Rex Bionics has developed a fully robotic, joystick operated unit, and others have marketed performance augmentation units that are not necessarily designed for the handicapped.

Those who have tested the ReWalk say the benefit is transcends mere physical ease.

"When I use the ReWalk I feel like I am maintaining my body. It is like taking a car to the garage ... It feels great," said Radi Kaiuf, a ReWalk evaluator who was paralyzed in 1988 during his Israeli military service.

"I have a 3-year-old daughter. The first time she saw me walking, she was silent for the first few minutes and then she said, 'Daddy you are tall.' It made me feel so good, like I was soaring” he reported.

ReWalk users need their hands and shoulders to operate it and support crutches, Goffer has been unable to use and enjoy his creation since he is paralyzed neck down. But he said the company is working on a version for quadriplegics such as himself.

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