“It’s really a weird feeling, because you’re not moving your leg,” Rose said. “The machine is doing it, like you’re a puppet.”
Rose said sometimes he got stuck momentarily because he would mentally will his legs to move instead of leaning to the correct position to fire the motors. Someday the robot suits will be controlled by sensors that detect brain impulses, said Shean Phelps, who tracks advances in the field as health technology development director at Georgia Tech Research Institute in Atlanta.
Much research is being done, but there are probably fewer than 100 robot suits in use nationally in rehabilitation clinics, Phelps said, although he’s not aware of anyone who has an actual count.
Ekso officials said the company has built 80. About 60 are in use by customers such as civilian and military rehabilitation clinics, with a few of those reserved as loaners for when maintenance must be done. Ten are used for research and fewer than 10 are owned by individuals, said Darling, the Ekso spokeswoman.
Several companies build similar robotic devices, but Ekso’s model can be used by people with more severe paralysis that has left them without sensation or motor control above the waist, Phelps said.
Besides the robot technology’s benefits to the body, it gives users a huge psychological boost. To understand, Rose said, you have to imagine being seated for years around other people who are standing.
Rose remembered the first time he sat down and strapped into the machine. He leaned forward and pushed down on the crutches. The suit came to life and lifted him to standing position.
“You’re standing at eye level with everyone in the room,” Rose said. “It’s a nice change of perspective. You kind of forget what it’s like.”
It struck him another time when he stood up next to a physical therapist who was shorter than him.
“I felt like a giant,” Rose said.<< previous 1 2 3 4 5
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