Ekso Bionics looks to expand robotic walking aids

Ekso Bionics' robotic walking aid is being used in 15 rehab clinics around the U.S.--courtesy of Ekso Bionics

Ekso Bionics has created a self-contained robotic walking aid, and while the device is currently only used in rehabilitation clinics, the Bay Area company is looking to commercialize the product in the future.

Ekso's battery-powered suit weighs about 50 pounds and consists of mechanical braces strapped onto patients' legs, controlled by a back-mounted computer and electronic crutches, The New York Times reports. Each brace contains tiny motors that can lift and move legs forward.

So far, 15 rehab centers in the U.S. are using the suits, and hundreds of patients have used the technology successfully, Ekso says. The company, formerly Berkeley Bionics, got a CE mark in May and has begun shipping the latest model of the suit to overseas centers.

The device is targeted to patients with spinal cord injuries, lower-limb paralysis and pathologies that inhibit their ability to walk, and, thus far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, Ekso says. "People who come in haven't walked for years and years," CEO Eythor Bender told the Times. "They are walking on their own in two days."

At the moment, the tech is used solely in clinics, and if Ekso is to follow through on its commercialization goals, it'll need to clear the FDA. The company is undaunted, though, and founder and CTO Russ Angold said Ekso looks forward to a time when the technology becomes a part of everyday life. "The dream at the end of the day is be able to walk into a sporting goods store, like an REI, and pick up an exoskeleton," Angold told the Times. "They're like the jeans of the future."

That'll require the price to come down considerably, however. Right now, each Ekso suit costs $140,000, plus an annual $10,000 service contract, the Times reports.

- read the NYT story

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