Plenty of companies at CES claim to offer life-changing technology. ReWalk Robotics actually does. The ReWalk Personal System is the world’s first robotic exoskeleton approved by the US FDA (Federal Drug Administration – which means it can used as part of medical and rehibilitation treatment) and it has the potential to change millions of people’s lives by allowing them to walk completely on their own, even if they’re paralysed from the waist down.
We were privileged to watch a ReWalk demonstration from Gene Laureano, an army vet who suffered a post-service spinal injury in 2001. Laureano is paralysed from the navel down, yet he was able to walk on his own, relatively easily around the show floor. Laureano is one of 120 current ReWalkers and has been using ReWalk robotic legs since 2013.
The ReWalk Personal System consists of three main parts: The exoskeleton itself, which is a motorized support system that attaches to the user’s legs; the communicator watch, which lets the user control the exoskeleton’s different modes; and the battery pack, which is worn as a backpack. The exoskeleton’s four movement modes—sitting, standing, walking, and climbing stairs—are controlled by the communicator watch.
In walking mode, the user initiates the first forward step by leaning slightly forward. A tilt sensor detects this movement and lifts the person’s leg. As the person shifts there body back and forth, the sensor triggers the robotic legs take steps that produce a natural gait.
The user walks with the aid of crutches to keep their balance (just in case). Although we saw the ReWalk Personal System used by a paraplegic, it can also be used to help improve the lives of people suffering from degenerative disorders such as multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
The ReWalk Personal System is FDA approved because it mimics the natural gait of human legs, instead of simply lifting each leg and putting it down in front of the other. When you see Laureano walk with his ReWalk, he looks like he’s walking, not marching like a toy soldier. Mimicking the natural gait is important, because anything else could put undue stress on the user’s joints.
Unlike smart lightbulbs and noise-cancelling headphones, ReWalk is changing people’s lives in a very real way. Being able to stand up and walk not only improves paraplegics’ mental states, it also improves their physical health, through increased bone density, improved cardiorespiratory function, and decreased pain. The ReWalk costs slightly more than $70,000 (around £45,000).