GRENOBLE, FRANCE – The French tetraplegic man who has been able to walk again using a pioneering four-limb robotic system, or exoskeleton, said walking was a major feat for him after being immobile for years. The French scientists behind the system, which was publicly unveiled last week, use a system of sensors implanted near the brain that send signals to the robotic system, moving the patient's legs and arms. Speaking to media on Monday in the French city of Grenoble, the 28-year-old patient, who was identified only by his first name, Thibault, said he had to re-educate to use his brain when he started to try the whole-body exoskeleton. "As I hadn't moved for two years I had to re-learn to use my brain," he said. "At the beginning, walking was very difficult. Now I can stand up for two hours in the exoskeleton and I can do walking cycles for a very long time," he also said.
Robotics lends a helping hand. Using a brain-controlled exoskeleton, six paralysed people regained the ability to do everyday tasks such as using cutlery or signing documents. The system required no surgery and is mobile enough to use outside a laboratory. "The patients were amazed by what they could do with the system," says Surjo Soekadar from the University Hospital of Tübingen, Germany. "Previously, they couldn't have a meal with a knife and fork, so changing that was amazing for them."
Danny Bal was riding his brand new motorcycle to work from his home in Ocala, Florida two years ago when the driver of an oncoming car fell asleep and ploughed into Bal's electric-blue bike. After the accident, which crushed three of Bal's thoracic vertebrae and shredded a spinal nerve, Bal adjusted to life in a wheelchair. He added a motorized lift to his beloved F-250 truck, explored local trails with a hand-powered bike, and joined a therapeutic horseback riding program. Now, one of Bal's daughters is about to get married, and 57-year-old Bal wants to walk in her ceremony. So on a recent Friday morning in December at Brooks Rehabilitation in Jacksonville, Florida, Bal was back on his feet, taking slow but steady steps as his granddaughter cheered from the sidelines.
If Lowe's has its way, they'll help store staff fetch your giant bucket of paint. The home improvement retailer has partnered with Virginia Tech to test prototype passive exoskeletons that make it easier to haul heavy objects. Carbon fiber in the suits' back and legs serves as a "taut bow" that stores energy when you bend down -- that energy comes back the moment you stand back up, making it much easier to lift that heavy bag of concrete. The material's flexible nature should also help the suits feel relatively comfortable... a rather important consideration for warehouse workers who may need to wear it for an entire shift. Only four suits are currently in testing at a store in Christiansburg, Virginia.