Exoskeletons don't come cheap and they're not one size fits all, making them a daunting prospect for the average buyer. But, some companies are working towards changing that. In December, Hyundai promised to make the suits cheaper. And, researchers are using machine learning to make them more accessible for people with mobility issues. That's where Bionik Laboratories comes in. The startup is adding Amazon's Alexa to its Arke lower-body exoskeleton, allowing wearers to control it with their voice. The exoskeleton is mainly aimed at those who have suffered spinal injuries. Although, its lower-body support mechanism could also aid stroke and traumatic brain injury victims, claims the company.
With Alexa integration, users will be able to bark orders at the suit -- such as "Alexa, I'm ready to stand" or "Alexa, I'm ready to walk." This will activate the sensors in Arke's feet and joints, allowing it to carry out the actions. However, there is a slight niggle: Currently the functionality only works if you're within range of an Amazon Echo. Additionally, this version is just a prototype -- it still has to pass clinical trials and FDA approvals before a public launch.
Alexa is proving a versatile AI, but pairing it with an exoskeleton is a bold move. After all, people currently use their Amazon Echo to skip Charlie Puth tracks or order toilet roll. Whether or not it will make for a reliable assistant for those with physical impairments (where every command becomes critical), remains to be seen.
Bionik Laboratories co-founder Michal Prywata recently told Fortune that the exoskeleton could hit the market by 2019.