Bionic Legs Allow Paraplegics to Get Up and Walk

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A robotic exoskeleton called eLEGS enables people who have been paralyzed below the waist to walk again. The technology, developed by Berkeley Bionics, is geared toward consumers — the 6 million Americans who are paralyzed, many of whom use wheelchairs.

For so many sufferers of paralysis — many of whom may have been active and athletic before an injury damaged their spinal cord — being able to move their bodies independently will no doubt be an emotional, gratifying experience. Watch for yourself:


“The most exciting possibility for the eLEGS for me is to take it out into the real world,” said Amanda Boxtel, who was paralyzed from the waist down during a ski accident in 1993 and now works as a motivational speaker. “I’m not meant to be in my wheelchair, sitting down and rolling. I want to be tall in my body.” (More on Want Good Health? There Are 10 Apps for That)

eLEGS is the latest in a line of “human augmentation robotics systems” that Berkeley Bionics has created with the Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. It was based on another system called HULC, for the Human Universal Load Carrier, a robotics system licensed to Lockheed Martin that was made for the military to help soldiers carry heavy packs across extreme terrain without risking injury.

The eLEGS device consists of a backpack that holds the battery, and metal leg casings that are secured around a person’s clothed body with velcro straps. A mixture of sensors and robotics creates a natural-seeming gait that can speed up to an excess of 2 miles per hour.  More from Berkeley Bionics:

The device is battery-powered and employs a gesture-based human-machine interface which — utilizing sensors — observes the gestures the user makes to determine their intentions and then acts accordingly. A real-time computer draws on sensors and input devices to orchestrate every aspect of a single stride.

Boxtel points out that the technology may be of help to those who are newly injured, since they may still retain muscle memory and their muscles will not have atrophy significantly yet. Such early assistance in getting patients back on their feet may further aid a host of minor health concerns associated with being in a wheelchair — from digestive issues to poor circulation.

Dr. Graham Creasey, chief of spinal chord injury service at the Palo Alto VA Medical Center, has great hopes for the eLEGS as well: “For the first time in history, we can start to think about giving movement back,” he said.

This post originally misstated that 6 million people in the U.S. have paraplegia. That figure refers instead to the number of people with paralysis. The text has been corrected.

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