Robotic Exoskeleton from Ekso Bionics Helps People Walk AgainScience
Robotic Exoskeleton from Ekso Bionics Helps People Walk Again
If you were paralyzed, what would you be willing to do to walk again? And what would you say if you were told that you might soon be able to?
Ekes Bionics, a wearable robotics manufacturer thinks that all you have to do is wear one of their suits. The Ekso, short for Eksoskeleton, was originally developed to help soldiers carry heavier loads, but now it’s being put to use in another capacity, helping people to walk again.
Ekso Bionics was founded as Berkeley ExoWorks by three members of the Berkeley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory at the University of California. The team initially used their creativity to produce a human load carrier, which included a strap on pair of legs and backpack designed to allow the human body to carry up to 150 pounds of additional weight. They also produced the ExoClimber which aids humans climbing steep slopes with loads of similar weight. In 2011, the company, which had changed its name to Berkly Bionics in 2007, changed its name again to become Ekso Bionics, and renamed their mechanical legs the ‘Exo’ and ‘Ekso’, which stand for ‘Exoskeleton’.
The Ekso, formerly known as ‘E-Legs’, is a robotic exoskeleton featuring primarily hydraulic and electronic parts. The robotic exoskeleton straps on to the wearer’s back like a backpack, straps onto the legs, and around the thighs. The strong hydraulic support system provides lift and forward momentum, and offers support for the legs from the feet to the hips. It also features mobile multi-directional knee and ankle joints, allowing users a full range of walking motion.
Wearers can then move forward at the touch of a button located on the Ekso and on walking sticks, or by leaning forward. The wearer can walk, sit, stand, and take the device off on their own using the built in computer and motion sensors, which are designed to work with and predict behavior based on actions, guestures, and movement. This requires a training period, where the computer learns the behavior patterns of the user, and then attempts to replicate to increase responsiveness.
The legs are hydraulic and can support up to 220 pounds. They also adjust from five to six feet in height, which is an impressive range for a single prototype model. The Ekso can be put on from a seated wheelchair position, without aid. The battery only lasts for 6 hours and the maximum speed capacity is 2 miles per hour, or slightly slower than the average human can walk. It’s also slow, ungainly, and more than a little awkward.
Despite it’s flaws, as a design, the Ekso is a revolutionary concept that is virtually priceless to the many people who cannot walk. The device was awarded the ‘Most Significant Gadget of 2010’ award, as well as one of the ’50 best inventions of 2010’ and one of the ‘5 biggest ideas of the next 10 years’, and it’s not hard to see why.
When is it Up for Sale?
In 2012, the Ekso was given FDA approval in the United States. In Europe, Ekso was given a CE rating, which means that it is medically approved. The device is currently estimated to cost $100,000 and is being sold to rehabilitation centers with high end budgets. Meanwhile, Ekso Bionics is working to build a lighter, faster, and more affordable version, hopefully with a longer battery life.
For now, Ekso is still too expensive for most at home users, but it is comforting to know that the technology is on the way, and in more than capable hands. Within ten or fifteen years, we could see affordable models on sale to persons who are or have been disabled. In fact, Ekso could very well become the wheelchair of the future.