After more than a decade of research and development, an Israeli company has finally gotten approval from the FDA to market its human exoskeleton, a robotic suit that makes it possible for paralysed individuals to walk.
In 1997, Dr. Amit Goffer became quadriplegic after an ATV accident, and he was inspired to create a solution for others like him. He decided to start Argo Medical Technologies (now known as ReWalk Robotics), and 11 years later, Goffer’s dream was realised in the form of the ReWalk.
In 2012, the ReWalk Personal — an exoskeleton designed for everyday life — became available in Europe, and as of yesterday, the robosuit will be able to be marketed in the U.S.
ReWalk is made up of a metal brace that supports the legs and upper body; motors that make the hips, knees, and ankles move; a tilt sensor that detects motion; and a backpack that powers the whole suit.
A wireless remote control on the wrist lets the user command ReWalk to stand up, sit down, or walk. But because of the tilt sensor, the exoskeleton will also function automatically based off the wearer’s movements. So if someone leans forward while sitting, the exoskeleton will bring them to stand. ReWalk’s movements are designed to mirror the regular pattern of walking, so the foot will hit the ground with the heel first, toes second.
ReWalk-wearers can use crutches on top of the suit for additional stability. And anyone who uses ReWalk will also have to go through some training in a rehab center to learn how to control it.
Right now, the exoskeleton is priced at $US69,500, but ReWalk Robotics CEO Larry Jasinski estimates it will actually save insurance companies money if you factor in the medication and issues that are avoided by using ReWalk. And now that it’s received the go-ahead from the FDA, doctors can view the exoskeleton as a serious alternative to wheelchairs.
The implications of the FDA’s approval are huge for American paraplegics. According to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention there are about 200,000 people in the U.S. with a spinal cord injury. ReWalk will give them the opportunity to be completely independent and self-sufficient for the first time.
“You very likely will see someone walking on the streets in Boston in not too long,” Jasinski told Business Insider. “The exoskeleton is not a fantasy in a movie anymore, it’s real. The FDA put us through a rigorous process but an appropriate one, and they validated that this is a legitimate new category that is appropriate for everyday use.”
Next up for ReWalk is a solution for quadriplegics, according to Jasinski.
“The industry of exoskeletons is something that is an industry to watch because I think it can offer a lot of benefits to people whether they’re the elderly, people with injuries or sickness,” he said. “You’re going to see robotics, exoskeletons as a pretty good part of our future life.”
Watch the ReWalk Personal in action:
One ReWalker takes a stroll in the streets.
Another crosses the finish line of a 10k race in 5 hours.
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