For years, we've been shown research projects teasing next-generation exoskeletons designed to empower those without the use of their legs. But those desiring the devices have been forced to wait for a viable commercial solution — until now.
That wait finally ended last week when the United States Food and Drug Administration approved ReWalk Robotics' personal exoskeleton for marketing in the U.S.
Innovative devices such as ReWalk go a long way towards helping individuals with spinal cord injuries gain some mobilityInnovative devices such as ReWalk go a long way towards helping individuals with spinal cord injuries gain some mobility," Christy Foreman, director of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA;s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement.
ReWalk's robotic legs, which support their own weight, weigh 46 pounds, while its backback, which houses the system's computer and battery, weighs five pounds. It does a decent job of offering an assistive walking device without making the wearer look like a hulking cyborg.
ReWalk's computer runs Windows, and delivers control signals to the exoskeleton. The signals are first transmitted by a wrist device that has physical buttons, and allows the wearer to engage three exoskeleton modes: standing, sitting and walking. Currently, the battery is designed to support a full day of intermittent walking, but if the wearer walks non-stop, the battery will last three to four hours.
ReWalk's approval marks a significant milestone in the early development of personal robotic assistive devices, as it is the first such device approved by the FDA.
Much like how the public has become accustomed to seeing electric wheelchairs on public streets, and more recently, futuristic, Blade Runner-style prosthetics at sporting events, we can expect to start seeing exoskeletons as a part of everyday life in major cities.
However, the price of owning a ReWalk isn't cheap — the device costs $69,500. And health insurance in the U.S. doesn't cover the ReWalk, so for the time being, access is limited to those with significant financial resources. Those who don't, however, should take heart. Larry Jasinski, CEO of ReWalk, told Mashable that the company is "working with insurers and other health-care coverage providers to ensure individuals eligible to use the ReWalk are able to purchase a system."
Aside from price, a physical restriction also limits the use of the ReWalk to those between 5-foot-3 and 6-foot-3, along with a top weight limit of 220 pounds. These specifications will make ReWalk a non-starter for some, but its physical parameters are broad enough that may of those in need can use the device.
Before being cleared to use ReWalk, wearers will first have to go through a series of approximately 15 training sessions to ensure that they are able to use it safely.
Israeli scientist Dr. Amit Goffer developed ReWalk; he was inspired to come up with a new assistive device for walking after he was involved in an accident, and became a quadriplegic in 1997.
ReWalk is available now via the company's website.
Tags: ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY, EXOSKELETON, FDA, GADGETS, HEALTH, HEALTH & FITNESS, MEDICAL, ROBOTICS, Tech