A new breed of robotics aims to help people walk again
When Joey Abicca pokes a metal crutch into the ground with his right arm, tiny motors start whirling around his left leg, lifting it and moving it forward. When he does the same with his left arm, the motors whir to life again and his right leg takes a step. The metallic whine is like something out of the movie RoboCop.
Robotic legs are controlled by a computer on the user's back.
Abicca, a 17-year-old from San Diego, is essentially wearing a robot. His bionic suit consists of a pair of mechanical braces wrapped around his legs and electric muscles that do much of the work of walking. It is controlled by a computer on his back and a pair of crutches held in his arms that look like futuristic ski poles.
Since an accident involving earth-moving equipment three years ago that damaged his spinal cord, Abicca has been unable to walk on his own. The suit, made by Ekso Bionics, is an effort to change that.
"It's awesome — I love getting back up," Abicca said before strapping on the legs during his recent visit to the company's headquarters here. "Even just standing up straight is awesome."
Ekso is one of several companies and research labs that are working on wearable robots made to help disabled people or to make the human body superhuman. In 2010, Raytheon released a suit for soldiers that is designed to reduce injuries from heavy lifting. And in Israel, a company called Argo Medical Technologies also makes a robotic suit to help paraplegics walk again.
Ekso says it was the first company to introduce a self-contained robotic suit, without any tethers to, say, a power supply. And though its suits for the disabled are now used only in rehabilitation centers, it is looking ahead to a day when they will let people take to the sidewalks, the shopping malls — and maybe even the woods.
- Fixing probe now reaches Bollywood, son of Dara Singh held
- BCCI cashes Pune guarantee, Sahara walks out of IPL
- Sreesanth spent Rs 1.95 lakh on clothes, bought friend BlackBerry and paid in cash: Police
- Delhi firm with MoD as client is linked to Pak cyberattacks
- After Infosys, iGATE sacks Phaneesh Murthy for sexual misconduct
- 2 weeks after harassment, Haryana schoolgirls return, cops in tow