Image by Getty / Futurism
While robotic exoskeletons have a long way to go before they’re affordable and available to the average consumer, they’re still helping patients make monumental strides.
Take Richard Hernandez, who became bound to a wheelchair after a spinal cord injury over twenty years ago. Now, using an exoskeleton developed by the Barcelona-based medical startup ABLE Human Motion, Hernandez can walk around on his own, largely unimpeded.
“It would change my life completely [to have the exoskeleton full time],” he told EuroNews at the Mobile World Congress 2023 in Barcelona.
Hernandez has been testing ABLE’s exoskeletons for several years now as a “pilot.” Although “rudimentary” in its initial stages, he says, the latest version is an “immense” upgrade.
“With my relatively low injury and my fairly good balance, I can use it as you saw a moment ago, completely autonomously, simply with a remote control that I carry on a crutch or walker, which I use to control all the functions with two buttons,” Hernandez said.
In fact, Hernandez got to put his newfound mobility to the test in a game of ping pong versus literal royalty: Felipe VI, the King of Spain.
It’s unclear, however, who won the match.
The exoskeleton is a surprisingly simple device: it straps around a user’s legs, with a set of motors at the knees and hips “that drives the motion of walking for you to be able to walk again, for somebody who doesn’t have sensation or movement in their legs from a spinal cord injury,” Katlin Kreamer, product manager at ABLE Human Motion told EuroNews.
According to a video, the device can also be programmed through a smartphone that can cycle through different modes, such as “Walking.”
ABLE hopes to start selling the exoskeleton starting this spring. At this stage, though, it’s not being sold to private users, but instead is intended for clinics and hospitals, where doctors can safely use it for rehabilitating patients in a safe environment.
And the costly projected price would reflect that, ranging between $40,000 to $60,000.
In other words, the exoskeleton is more like training wheels than a bipedal equivalent of a wheelchair — but don’t let that undermine its impressive ability to help a person walk.
“The first step is to offer it in a clinical setting like a hospital,” Kreamer said. “And then the next step in our roadmap would be to make a personal use device for someone to be able to take home and use in their daily life.”
More on exoskeletons: FDA Gives Go-Ahead for Robotic Exoskeleton For Stroke Survivors