It was around this time last year when I hunkered in and watched the holiday episode of one of my favorite TV shows, Glee. In it, Artie — the wheelchair-bound teen character played by Kevin McHale — made a Christmas miracle happen by taking his first (non-dream sequence) steps on the show using a gadget called the ReWalk.
Not a work of fiction, the ReWalk is basically a real-life exoskeleton that is worn over the clothes and allows paraplegics to gain greater mobility with its robotic, articulating limbs. It was FDA-approved a year ago, but the thing is, it’s mainly for use by hospitals and rehab centers. And even if it wasn’t limited to institutional use, that $100,000+ sticker price would surely be prohibitively expensive.
Enter Ekso Bionics. Ideally, the company’s Ekso units will actually be available for individuals someday, but as of now, it’s still undergoing evaluation. Over the past few months, the Kessler Foundation has outfitted six people with spinal-cord injuries, to determine if the added mobility enabled by this hi-tech exoskeleton can actually improve overall health and rehabilitation. A broader clinical study will take place this year, and depending on the results of that evaluation, home use could follow.
As opposed to the hip and leg–oriented ReWalk, the Ekso looks a bit more like a full body suit, which covers more people with varying levels of injury, from paraplegics to quadraplegics. And somehow, maybe it’s fitting that it looks a bit like a proto-Iron Man suit, because this is nothing short of super-powered.
Check it out for yourself in the video. And good luck not being moved by this. Some of these people are taking their very first steps since their injury.