Looking a little like a cross between the bionic suit of Iron Man and the skeletal robots of Terminator, the Ekso is a wearable robotic exoskeleton for people with lower paralysis in the body to help them standing and walking again.
It works with the user wearing the Ekso attached via leg straps, which are designed for a patient to get easily in and out of the device, either on their own or with minimal support. Once a user is strapped in, the magic of walking is achieved by putting forward pressure on the leg which wants to make a step. The robotics of the Ekso then kicks in and initiates the step.
A choice of three walk modes helps physiotherapists with the task of aiding walking through a planned process. The first mode, aptly named "First Step", sees the physiotherapist activating the desired steps with the use of a remote control. Once a user is comfortable with "First Step" they can then take control of the device by using the "Active Step" mode. This gives users the ability to operate the remote control through their crutches or walker. Lastly, and with plenty of practise, a user can use "ProStep", which looses the remote control and lets the robotics do the walking. This is done with the users lateral and forward shift movement needed to take a step, similarly to how lateral and forward movement propels a Segway. Data from the device is always recorded for users and therapists alike, so they can log onto the website to see their statistics.
There are myriads of people who could benefit from this type of technology. People with spinal chord injuries, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease could all benefit from the Ekso. Their website also have the massive claim that "virtually everyone medically cleared for use of Ekso has walked in their first session with a therapist" which is no mean feat. The company has currently trained and supplied 30 rehabilitation facilities with the device and a "take home" version is planned for 2014. Unfortunately at this early stage, the device is priced at $110,000 which makes it inaccessible for the majority of people. Hopefully with financial assistance and funding it could be supplied to more people in need.
The project was originally developed for the military and then re-purposed for health care. Obviously, we don't know how the technology has been used in the military (and one automatically thinks of crazy sci-fi scenarios) however CEO Eythor Bender suggested an even broader user base could use exoskeletons in an interview with Fast Company. He believes that "exoskeletons for workers using tools too heavy to hold for more than a few minutes" could be used as well as a consumer version for people who want to "run a marathon or climb Mount Kilimanjaro". Even though Bender sees his product as "the jeans of the future" its use seems much more appropriate and beneficial for paraplegics to be more able bodied. It's hard not to be moved when you see people walking for the first time since becoming paralysed using an Ekso.