Ekso improves on other exoskeletons in that it doesn't use electrodes to stimulate the muscles. The problem with electrodes, Kirshblum said, is that the energy expenditure to get a muscle to contract is enormous.
With less energy required, Ekso's developers hope users can travel farther on their own.
Right now, Ekso is mainly intended for use in therapy settings, and researchers at Kessler and elsewhere will study its impact on bone strength, muscle, bowel and bladder function, blood pressure and quality of life.
Kim Anderson-Erisman, education director for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, envisions exoskeletons one day helping other types of patients, such as stroke survivors and people with traumatic brain injury or multiple sclerosis. "Anything that would lead to muscle weakness," she explained.
"This could potentially be something that they could use to help train, train their muscles and strengthen so that they might be able to eventually walk on their own," said Anderson-Erisman.
Of course, lots of research is needed first to see if exoskeletons actually help strengthen the muscles, she added.
Ekso should help people move, but will it prompt neurological recovery?
Kirshblum wasn't willing to say. But whatever its use, the price will have to come down considerably, said Anderson-Erisman.
Kirshblum also wouldn't say how much Ekso will cost, but one estimate put the price at $100,000.
"This would have to be something insurance would pay for and I don't think that's in the immediate future," said Anderson-Erisman.
This year, Kessler is embarking on a clinical trial with Ekso, a trial Rhode hopes to join.
"Hopefully, I'll be able to use it again," said Rhode, who has not used Ekso since October, when he was one of six adults, and the only quadriplegic, to test the device.
"I think it's going t
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