Let's go with Exo

For people who cannot walk under their own power, exoskeletons offer what could be the next-best thing. Exoskeletons are essentially “wearable robots.” They permit their users to stand, move their legs and walk. 

For people who cannot walk under their own power, exoskeletons offer what could be the next-best thing. Exoskeletons are essentially “wearable robots.” They permit their users to stand, move their legs and walk. 

A team of engineers at Vanderbilt University has developed their own exoskeleton. They say their version offers some important advantages over their competitors. The latest model is notable for its portability: It weighs 12 kilos and comes in five pieces that users can assemble themselves.

The Vanderbilt exoskeleton connects to the user’s torso, legs and feet. The user activates computer-controlled electric motors in the hips and knees. However, like other exoskeletons, the user still needs to use external supports such as crutches in order to maintain their balance.

Similar to the Segway, if the user leans forward, the machine will begin to walk them in that direction. Inclining backward causes the machine to bring the user to a seated position. If the user sits forward for several seconds, the exoskeleton will return them to a standing position.

Wheelchairs are still faster and more convenient for public travel, but walking with the machine could have significant health benefits for paraplegics. The exoskeleton could prevent osteoporosis and skin ulcers and could improve users' circulation and digestion – to say nothing of the potential psychological benefits of standing up and walking.

"It's such a new technology and there's nothing really like it," says Andrew Ekelem, a paraplegic who is also member of the Vanderbilt University team. "There's not much to lose by having better equipment and better exercise capabilities."

Prepared by: Jonathan Zur

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