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Wearable robots are helping the paralyzed walk again

Back in October we talked to our readers about how technological advancements could help paralyzed people walk once more. At the time, Microsoft was hoping to make this type of technology available within eight to 15 years; but as our readers will soon see, this technology may be closer than Microsoft originally thought.

This is thanks in part to a California-based robotics company called Ekso Bionics, which recently developed an exoskeleton suit that is helping paraplegics walk again. The suit is a wearable robot that has built-in sensors that detect a person’s shift in weight. Using battery-powered motors, the suit senses these shifts and initiates steps by helping to move a person’s legs. As the co-founder of Ekso Bionics explains, this technology finally makes science fiction a reality for people with mobility issues.

But despite the promises that this suit offers to people with permanent impairments, only five people in the world own an Ekso suit. That’s because, with an estimated $100,000 price tag, many people cannot afford this invaluable piece of technology. Although some nonprofits have started giving injured veterans access to these suits, it’s important to point out that soldiers are not the only people who can suffer debilitating work-related injuries.

The hope is that this technology will become more widely available in the years to come. As Ekso Bionics’ co-founder points out, not everyone was able to afford the first cellphones, but as technology advanced, so too did accessibility. And perhaps one day, exoskeleton suits will be just as common a sight as surfing the internet on a phone.

Source: WPTV News, "Ekso Bionics exoskeleton allows Gary Linfoot, paraplegic Veteran, to walk," Pat Etheridge, Nov. 12, 2013

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