Engineers Develop Exoskeleton for Paraplegics

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If you’re a young engineer or recent engineering grad, you may want to consider a career in exo-bionics. In something right out of the film "Iron Man," a company called Ekso Bionics is spearheading the development of mechanical exoskeletons.

Literally a robot suit, it allows paraplegics and wounded warriors with spinal cord injuries to stand up and walk. It’s also a Godsend for wheelchair bound patients with multiple sclerosis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, lower extremity weakness or other paralysis due to neurological disease or spinal injury.

With nearly three million people currently wheelchair bound, Ekso Bionics hopes to simplify such “exosuits” through ongoing innovations in biomechanics and cyborg-type research. The company admits that the challenge goes beyond just robotics. One major goal is to design a suit that's easy to don—much like a pair of jeans.

Ekso’s current exoskeleton has four electric motors that replicate a person’s hips and knees. These are controlled by 15 computer-controlled sensors and a battery pack that provides four hours of service. Physical therapists use a remote control to help patients get used to their new “legs.”

The exoskeleton can be custom fit to individuals from 5-foot-2 to 6-foot-2, with a maximum weight of 220 pounds. Advanced models will feature artificial intelligence that allows a user to initiate a step by leading with his arms and crutches. A user’s body movement signals are converted into motion signals that activate the exoskeleton’s “hips” and “knees.”

Ekso Bionics recently demonstrated its exoskeleton at the London International Technology Show. Currently priced at $150,000, the exoskeleton is not cheap, but then, prices always come down as manufacturing is refined and quantities go up. Reducing the price and simplifying the technology would be the challenges faced by today’s engineers eager to give mobility to war veterans and those wheelchair bound by disease.

For an added perspective, check out this video:

Got any thoughts on engineering careers in robotics technology? Include your comments in the section below.

Alex A. Kecskes has written hundreds of published articles on health/fitness, "green" issues, TV/film entertainment, restaurant reviews and many other topics. As a former Andy/Belding/One Show ad agency copywriter, he also writes web content, ads, brochures, sales letters, mailers and scripts for national B2B and B2C clients. Please see more of his blogs and view additional job postings on Nexxt.


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