Since last we saw the Ekso Bionics robotic suit, which helps folks with lower-extremity paralysis or weakness to stand up and walk, the $110,000 exoskeleton has been on the market for about a year. About 30 have sold so far, and the company's director of marketing and communications, Allison Sojka, reckons that medical centers have already helped rehabilitate somewhere between 500 and 1,000 patients. By allowing them to stand up and walk, the bionic suit not only helps users overcome issues like bone density loss and neuropathic pain related to their condition, but also to gain reams of confidence -- an oft-overlooked factor in the recovery process.
The production model is a polished-looking assemblage of aluminum and judiciously placed titanium and carbon fiber, along with sensors, motors, joints, off-the-shelf DSPs and custom circuitry and software. Two lithium-ion batteries power the device (four are included), each of which will go for three to six hours after charging for an hour or so, allowing continuous use of the suit by facilities. Three walk modes are available, namely FirstStep, which is actuated by a therapist with a button push; a user-controlled mode called ActiveStep; and ProStep, which senses user body cues for movement control. The suit also provides audio feedback to help users achieve ideal positioning and transmits stats and data for further review and reporting. Sojka said that the company will release new variable-assist software option in June that'll let patients contribute from zero to 100 percent of the walking power, with the exoskeleton providing the rest -- though there's no pricing yet for that update. To hear her describe how the suit works and see it in action with patient Sarah Anderson, check the video and gallery after the break.