The Bionic Suit

Robotic exoskeleton technology is making major strides in helping people to walk.

 

Most of us take for granted the ability to stand up and walk. But imagine what it feels like for someone who has been paralyzed to suddenly be able to get up from a wheelchair and move on his or her own two feet. More people will know that feeling soon, as exoskeleton technology advancements make the robotic suit more comfortable and affordable.

ReWalk was the first exoskeleton approved by the FDA in 2011, but with a weight of about 50 pounds and a $70,000 price tag, it has felt a bit out of reach for most people. Similarly, Parker Hannifin Corp., created the Indego, a wearable robot that costs about $80,000.

Now, startup SuitX is delivering a robotic suit, dubbed the Phoenix, that weighs 27 pounds and costs about $40,000. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Phoenix is designed to mimic the way people naturally walk. The developers stripped the number of actuators down to just two at the hips to allow the knee to flex naturally while walking rather than having the device move the knee. The motors are connected to leg braces, and the suit is powered by a battery worn as a small backpack.

SuitX has applied for FDA approval and the company expects the price of the Phoenix to drop further. While it will not replace the wheelchair, wearable robotics can help improve muscle tone and reduce problems associated with prolonged sitting.

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