Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A ‘step’ in the right direction

Question:  What was named one of Time Magazine’s 50 Best Inventions for 2010?

Question:  What product was demonstrated on CNN that could remove a barrier to those that have lost the use of their legs?

Answer:  Berkeley Bionics eLEGS Exoskeleton.

Dan, a poster on our KDA Forum, turned me on to this new (October, 2010) mobility device.  These type devices brings more hope to those of us living with Kennedy’s Disease.

eLEGS The exoskeleton weighs 45 pounds, runs on batteries for up to six hours, and allows people that have lost the use of their legs to once again walk.  The speed of the walk is adjustable with a current top speed of 2 mph.  The eLEGS should be available within the next year in many rehabilitation clinics throughout the United States.


The initial focus of eLEGS is for persons with spinal chord injuries.  The person uses two canes to activate the leg braces servo unit causing it to step forward … actually bending the knee in the step process.  “The device is battery-powered and employs a gesture-based human-machine interface which — utilizing sensors — observes the gestures the user makes to determine their intentions and then acts accordingly.   A real-time computer draws on sensors and input devices to orchestrate every aspect of a single stride.”  The current technology is based upon a military load carrier called HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier).

Berkeley Bionics’ website states the following:  “Now we are putting the finishing touches on our newest product, an exoskeleton that enables wheelchair users to stand and walk.  Our ready-to-wear bionic exoskeletons provide users with seriously enhanced strength, endurance and mobility. They make you stronger for longer, or able to stand and walk, away from your wheelchair.”  They have a press release that explains eLEGS in more detail.

Ergonomic, highly maneuverable, easily donned and doffed, mechanically robust and lightweight, they are durable bionic outfits.”
elegs1 There is a great video on Amanda Boxtel demonstrating the eLEGS on CNN.  She is a person that has not walked for 18 years.  There is also a YouTube video explaining the technology and showing Amada setting up and walking with it.  One other video shows Amanda and another man giving a demonstration to an audience.  Discover Magazine also has an interesting article on this new mobility device.

In the videos the movement does not seem relaxed or normal, but when I walk I do not look relaxed or normal either.  Locking my knees on every step to make certain my knee does not give out would make for a funny video.  I am certain it is just like using a cane or walker.  The first few times (in Amanda’s case 20 hours) that you use a new device are a learning process.


Now for the reality check.  The initial price of eLEGS is about $100,000.  They hope to have a commercial model available within a couple of years that would be priced around $50,000.  This price will come down over time like what happened to the HAL exoskeleton.

I also believe that they will be improving the operation of the device over time … first generation products lead to rapid improvements in second and third generations.


For me, this is all great stuff and takes any of us living with Kennedy’s Disease one ‘step’ closer to walking safely again.  Or, I guess I could say what Neil Armstrong said when he stepped onto the moon’s surface, “One small step for man.  One giant leap for …  BRAVO!

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