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We spend the first year of our lives preparing to take our first step, and so begins our life as creatures who rely on our two legs to ambulate. There probably appears nothing as devastating as losing this function, only to be confined to a wheelchair. This often happens to otherwise young and healthy individuals as the result of a spinal cord injury, injuring the nerves that send signals to the muscles they control. The higher up the injury is toward the head, the more muscles are affected. Those with injuries to the spinal cord in the lower back will lose function of their leg muscles; their arm muscles are not affected and thus allow them to propel a wheelchair or crutches.

We are made to walk, and not sit; thus long term use of a wheelchair not only affects muscle tone but also digestion and other vital bodily functions. The sooner someone can stand up and begin walking again after injury, the less long term effects there are on the body.

Robotics exist to fill the need for those functions that we can either not fulfill or are unable to perform efficiently, and walking is no exception. There are several companies in recent years which have released products which allow wheelchair-bound people with paralysis to stand and walk. One of these companies is Ekso Bionics, which has produced an amazing bionic exoskeleton that does just that; their tagline on their website states “Ekso is the bionic exoskeleton that allows wheelchair users to stand and walk.” Their product consists of a lithium battery powered exoskeleton which powers motors at the hip and knee, along with crutches or a walker. There are several modes which meet client needs, one of which amazingly adjusts power to one side when only one side is affected by injury such as stroke.

Currently the product is available only for use in rehabilitation centers under the supervision of a physical therapist, but the website states a personal version for home use may be launched as early as next year.

Read more at http://www.eskobionics.com

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