In the last few years we’ve seen orthotic exoskeletons introduced by Argo and Ekso Bionics that get wheelchair-bound people on their legs again. In the meantime engineers at Vanderbilt University have been developing their own powered device which is lighter and smaller than the competition.
The Vanderbilt exoskeleton is controlled by the person shifting the body’s center of gravity, much like the Segway scooter. It’s small enough to be taken on and off independently by the user while sitting in a wheelchair and weighs only 27 pounds (12 kilos). Check out a couple videos below to see the device in action.
Additional benefits of Vanderbilt’s exoskeleton according to the designers:
- The amount of robotic assistance adjusts automatically for users who have some muscle control in their legs. This allows them to use their own muscles while walking. When a user is totally paralyzed, the device does all the work. The other designs provide all the power all of the time.
- It is the only wearable robot that incorporates a proven rehabilitation technology called functional electrical stimulation. FES applies small electrical pulses to paralyzed muscles, causing them to contract and relax. FES can improve strength in the legs of people with incomplete paraplegia. For complete paraplegics, FES can improve circulation, change bone density and reduce muscle atrophy.
More from Vanderbilt: Advanced exoskeleton promises more independence for people with paraplegia
Flashbacks: Ekso Bionics Sells Its First Commercial Exoskeleton; EKSO Bionics Exoskeleton at TEDMED; ARGO’s Rewalk Technology on Display at Advamed (video); Argo ReWalk Exoskeleton Now Ready to Take Home, Around Neighborhood (video); ReWalk Exoskeleton Going on Sale in January
Update: The original version of this story stated that the Argo and Ekso exoskeletons are only button controlled. This seems not to be the case, at least regarding Ekso that is capable of being balance activated. Thanks to reader Jim for the correction.