A while back we wrote about the ReWalk, one of the first in a line of products now being referred to as “wearable robots,” “electronic legs” or “powered exoskeletons.” These devices attach to a disabled user’s legs and help them walk. They’re being used by paralytic patients, those with multiple sclerosis, and those recovering from strokes.
Though none of the wearable robots have yet been “approved by federal regulators for personal use” (which means they can only be used under supervision of a physical therapist), the technology is rapidly developing and multiple brands should be on the market within a year.
One such brand is the Indego, used by Michael Gore. Gore was paralyzed from the waist down in a workplace accident, but thanks to the Indego he can now stand and walk again. Gore told reporters, “Being able to speak with you eye-to-eye is just a big emotional boost... Being able to walk up to you and say hello is not a big thing until you cannot do it.”
In addition to their emotional benefits, wearable robots can prevent pressure sores and improve muscle strength and heart health. However, the devices still have several drawbacks. For one, none of them yet have fall prevention technology. Also they’re slower and therefore less practical than wheelchairs or power scooters for simply getting around. And they’re expensive, costing between $50,000 and $75,000.
Still, wearable robots are a huge step in the right direction. As the technology improves they could become a more and more useful, practical mobility aid.