If the recent Robocop remake told us anything, it’s that the future will be divided on what robotics should be all about. Should we be building robots to do work for us, or robotic suits to allow us to do the work better than ever before? Chances are it’ll end up being mostly the former, but the latter certainly has some interesting ramifications when you consider the potential for those without fully functioning bodies to perform some very normal movements thanks to an exoskeleton and that’s exactly what Ekso is.
The Ekso Bionics exoskeleton does what you might expect it to, it gives enhanced mobility to the wearer. However while exoskeletons in movies might be designed to give Tom Cruise or the defenders of Zion a leg up against their enemies, this one is designed specifically to allow those that lack certain motor skills, whether through injury or birth defect, to move.
The Ekso is a wearable bionic suit, that utilises artificial muscles and motors to provide a system of stability, walking and other movements, regardless of affliction. Patients with plenty of mobility in their upper body may find it easier to get started, as they can take some more of their weight on their arms, but even those with minimal forearm strengh can stand and walk around in the suit.
To help people get started, the exoskeleton has a step generator software package, that eases users into it, as well as systems that can be controlled remotely by a therapist. For example, the “First Step” walk mode, allows the user to proceed from a seated, to standing position and take several simple steps, with the aid of crutches or a walker. From there, the user can progress to taking control of the steps themselves, using buttons on the controller or walker.
The final stage involves them orientating their hips (if possible) in order to control the ekoskeleton, eventually allowing them to walk around unaided.
There’s no cost associated with the Ekso at the moment, as there is no consumer version, but those interested can try it out at a series of healthcare facilities around the world. At the moment, the Ekso is a rehabilitation tool only, but there will be commercial versions released in the future for home use.
The availability is the big problem with the Ekso at the moment, as you can only use one in select locations. Cost could be a potential issue when the home-version is debuted however, as robotics are far from cheap.
It’s hard to find fault in a wearable like this. It’s going to change the lives of thousands of people around the world as soon as they can get their hands on one. Potentially cost could be a problem, as I doubt one of these is cheap, but once these hurdles are crossed, we could see disabled individuals with just as much mobility as everyone else before long.