Four wheels bad, two legs good - an exoskeleton alternative to wheelchairs

Materials World magazine
,
8 Oct 2012

 

After almost 2,000 years, are we witnessing the final turn of the wheelchair? Doctor Amit Goffer came over all bleak. ‘To go out of the house, to go out to work – so many troubles.’ With his wheelchair to the lectern, he explained the daily struggle for those living with lower limb disabilities, and how he engineered a way to get them back on their feet.

 

In front of an audience at London’s Royal Academy of Engineering, Goffer outlined the ReWalk mobility restoration device – a wearable, motorised skeleton that allows users to walk and climb stairs independently.    

The upright system, which is strapped to the outsides of the legs, contains motion sensors, control algorithms, actuation motors and on-board computers with real-time software. It is powered using a backpack battery, and is activated using a wireless wrist watch-type device. Users control movement through subtle changes in their centres of gravity, while crutches ensure stability.    

The exoskeleton can walk at speeds of up to 2.5kph, which is about half the average walking speed. The in-built tilt sensor helps users get in and out of cars, and folds slowly in the event of failure.    

‘You’ll see this suit being used first thing in the morning and taken off at the end of the day,’ said Goffer, whose Israel-based company Argo Medical Technologies built the system.    

Sixty people have tested the equipment for a combined total of 6,000 hours. Among the users was event test pilot Val Fisher, who broke her neck in a horse riding accident five years ago. After just five days of intense training using the exoskeleton, she walked around the room, and went from a sitting position to standing and back again. As she stood facing the crowd, Fisher described using the technology for the first time.    

‘It was effortless. I was up and looking out the window. It was wicked – absolutely wicked.’