FDA Approved Exoskeleton Allows Paralyzed People to Walk

People who can’t stand can now walk by putting on a device called Rewalk. Rewalk is a robotic exoskeleton that works like a mechanical set of legs and crutches.

It was unveiled over the weekend at React, a spinal cord injury recovery gym in Dallas, Texas. Marcela Turnage, who hasn’t walked in 12 years after suffering a spinal injury in a car accident, used Rewalk to walk at the gym.

“It has changed my life,” Ms. Turnage said. “It has given me a different perspective about life.”

Rewalk powers movement of the hips and knees, so paralyzed people can stand, walk, and turn. Its backpack houses a 28-volt lithium-ion battery which reportedly lasts 8 hours on a single charge; it also comes with a back-up battery, so the exoskeleton can be used all day.

The on-board computers and motion sensors allow users to walk naturally and even climb stairs. Once the tilt sensor detects the body shift its weight forward, Rewalk takes its first step.

Users clamp the tilt sensor to the left side of their body in a brace. Users also wear a watch that allows them to tell the exoskeleton whether to sit, stand, walk, or climb steps. The height of each step is entered into the exoskeleton’s computer each time before its used to ascend or descend stairs.

Motor pods are strapped to users’ upper and lower legs to drive them forward when walking, standing, and climbing. They also keep the body firmly in place.

Wearers slip on carbon fiber footplates that hold up the weight of the exoskeleton and themselves.

And wearers should have the ability to use their hands and their shoulders, for the crutches are used to keep the body balanced.

The Rewalk is the first FDA approved exoskeleton used to stand and walk. Some of the health benefits Rewalk aims to deliver include decreased body fat percentage, improvements in cardiorespiratory, bowel, and bladder function, improved sitting posture, and decreased pain.

Rewalk costs about $70,000. It has to be approved to be used by a potential user’s physician, then a Rewalk trainer will determine whether it can work for her. Upon approval a user is taught how to use Rewalk at one of it’s training facilities worldwide. Once she knows how to use it, then the robotic exoskeleton can be used at home and in public.

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Sasha Perkins

Administrative Assistant and Journalist at the Pluto Daily since 2012.