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An exoskeleton of advanced design promises a new degree of independence for people with paraplegia
Date:10/30/2012

The dream of regaining the ability to stand up and walk has come closer to reality for people paralyzed below the waist who thought they would never take another step.

A team of engineers at Vanderbilt University's Center for Intelligent Mechatronics has developed a powered exoskeleton that enables people with severe spinal cord injuries to stand, walk, sit and climb stairs. Its light weight, compact size and modular design promise to provide users with an unprecedented degree of independence.

The university has several patents pending on the design and Parker Hannifin Corporation a global leader in motion and control technologies has signed an exclusive licensing agreement to develop a commercial version of the device, which it plans on introducing in 2014.

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, somewhere between 236,000 to 327,000 people in the U.S. are living with serious spinal cord injuries. About 155,000 have paraplegia. The average age at injury is 41 and the estimated lifetime cost when it happens to a person of 50 ranges from $1.1 million to $2.5 million.

Until recently "wearable robots" were the stuff of science fiction. In the last 10 years, however, advances in robotics, microelectronics, battery and electric motor technologies advanced to the point where it has become practical to develop exoskeletons to aid people with disabilities. In fact, two companies Argo Medical Technologies Ltd. in Israel and Ekso Bionics in Berkeley, Calif. have developed products of this type and are marketing them in the U.S.

These devices act like an external skeleton. They strap in tightly around the torso. Rigid supports are strapped to the legs and extend from the hip to the knee and from the knee to the foot. The hip and knee joints are driven by computer-controlled electric motors powered by advanced batteries. Patients use the powered apparatus with walkers or forearm crutches to mainta
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Contact: David Salisbury
david.salisbury@vanderbilt.edu
615-343-6803
Vanderbilt University
Source:Eurekalert  

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