Tags: wearable | robot | paralysis

‘Wearable Robot’ Allows Paralyzed to Walk

Wednesday, 05 December 2012 10:39 AM

Vanderbilt University engineers have developed a “wearable robot” that allows people who are paralyzed below the waist to stand up, walk, sit, and even climb stairs.
The machine, which seems inspired by the mechanical “exoskeleton” used by Sigourney Weaver’s character to battle extraterrestrials in Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi thriller “Alien,” offers a new degree of independence for paraplegics and people with severe spinal cord injuries, according to its developers.
"You can think of our exoskeleton as a Segway with legs," said Michael Goldfarb, a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Vanderbilt's Center for Intelligent Mechatronics. "If the person wearing it leans forward, he moves forward. If he leans back and holds that position for a few seconds, he sits down. When he is sitting down, if he leans forward and holds that position for a few seconds, then he stands up."
The university has several patents pending on the design and Parker Hannifin Corp. is working to develop a commercial version of the device, which it plans to introduce in 2014.
According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, up to 327,000 Americans are living with serious spinal cord injuries — nearly half have paraplegia.
In the last decade, advances in robotics, microelectronics, battery, and electric motor technologies have moved “wearable robots” from the realm of science fiction into the real world. Two companies — Argo Medical Technologies Ltd. in Israel and Ekso Bionics in Berkeley, Calif. — have developed such devices and are beginning to market them in the U.S.
Users strap themselves into them and rigid supports — that bend at the knee — are attached to their legs. Computer-controlled electric motors power the devices and patients use walkers or crutches to keep their balance.
Goldfarb developed the Vanderbilt device with funding from the National Institutes of Health.
"This is an extremely exciting new technology," said Clare Hartigan, a physical therapist at the Atlanta-based Shepherd Center who has worked with the Argo, Ekso, and Vanderbilt devices. "All three models get people up and walking, which is fantastic."

© HealthDay

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Engineers have developed a mechanical 'exoskeleton' allowing paraplegics to walk and even climb stairs.
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 10:39 AM
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