Wearable robotic suits that allow people with lower-body paralysis to walk upright again

Could you ever imagine that soon wheelchairs might become irrelevant? Well, you don't have to imagine it, since the revolutionary "bionic exoskeleton" is now making this a reality. Robotic or mechanical exoskeletons provide the possibility of offering disabled people the kind of protection, support and strength they afford in nature.  

Exoskeletons are common in nature. The name means "outer skeleton". Grasshoppers, cockroaches, crabs and lobsters have exoskeletons rather than an inner endoskeletons like humans, providing both support to the body and protection against predators. Turtles and tortoises have both an inner skeleton and an exoskeleton shell. 

Exoskeleton developers working in rehabilitation are creating wearable robotic suits that allow people with lower-body paralysis to walk upright again. Exoskeletons can help patients with neurological disabilities improve their motor performance by providing task specific practice. "In the next five years we're going to see more and more exoskeletons out there in practice," says Thomas Sugar, associate professor at the Department of Engineering, Arizona State University.

While the most common goal of an exoskeleton is to provide superhuman strength or endurance, scientists and engineers around the world are building exoskeletons with a wide range of diverse purposes. An exoskeleton suit is designed to provide support, assistance and protection for the human body. Starting from these main functions and combining several technologies, researchers are creating robotic suits for military use to help soldiers with a bit of super-human strength, medical exoskeleton suits that offer hope for paralyzed persons, and exosuits that augment human strength and speed.

Below are the different types of exoskeleton machines now being developed or marketed around the world by researchers and companies.

1. ReWalk Exoskeleton

ReWalk is one of the most advanced robotic exoskeleton suits designed for use in exploring different surfaces of terrains or at home.  Today, there is a growing number of patients who are regaining mobility with the FDA-approved 'ReWalk exoskeleton'. This technology is extremely exciting, as it will allow spinal cord injury patients to get out of their wheelchairs and walk again.

The bionic suit, worn outside of clothing, helps people with injuries walk by using accelerometers (similar to those in iPhones) to detect subtle changes in their balance. The suit moves the users’ legs in a natural gait, while the person uses crutches for stability. The manufacturer reports that the bionic suit, designed for spinal cord injury patients who retain use of their arms, may also help reduce several other disorders linked to long-term wheelchair use, including bone thinning, pressure sores, and problems with breathing, blood circulation, and urination.

2. eLEGS

eLEGS is the result of the combination between artificial intelligence and advanced technologies for gesture recognition. Designed by Berkeley Bionics, eLEGS is a lower body exoskeleton suit built for paralyzed people which allows them to walk again. The sensors are used to detect gestures and to send information to a computer in order to control movements. Patients can run at a maximum speed of up to 3 Km/hour for up to six hours of continuing use.

3. Honda Walk Assist 

Honda has come out with some variations of these exoskeleton suits including their Stride Management Assist and their Bodyweight Support. By 2024, people will be walking down the street, in the malls, and to their homes wearing robotic exoskeletons. They will make it easier for people to carry backpacks and walk for a long duration, and they will be portable, svelte, and fashionable.

4. REX Bionics

The REX powered exoskeleton has been designed to replace the wheelchair for patients with falls or mobility problems. Using a REX suit, the user can walk again and can move independently in daily routines.

5. Mindwalker 

Mindwalker is a mechanical suit prototype that has a control system with a highly advanced EEG bio-sensor that is able to read the mind of the patient. Mindwalker focuses on the patient’s mind by applying an EEG cap on the head. The EEG cap reads the signals from the brain and translates these signals into commands. This system has more control over the mobile suit parts in comparison with technologies that read the movements of human body parts. 

Rehabilitation clinics soon will have a variety of exoskeleton machines available to aid patients that have experienced spinal cord injury, stroke, and other neurological disorders.  Check out this website Intorobotic for more details.