November 12, 2008

Paralyzed Walk in Israeli Exoskeleton

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Paralyzed Israeli veteran Radi Kaiof walks in the ReWalk
Paralyzed Israeli veteran Radi Kaiof walks in the ReWalk

In Haifa, Israel, one paralyzed former paratrooper is experiencing a technological miracle. After 20 years in a wheelchair, Radi Kaiof is walking. The 41-year-old, who was injured while serving in the Isreali military in 1988, is a tester for the ReWalk, a "wearable, motorized, quasi-robotic suit," according to Argo Medical Technologies, Haifa, which produces the device.

Kaiof told Reuters, "I never dreamed I would walk again. After I was wounded, I forgot what it's like.... Only when standing up can I feel how tall I really am and speak to people eye to eye, not from below."

The ReWalk was conceived by engineer Amit Goffer, founder of Argo, a small high-tech company. The suit is composed of a rechargeable backpack-style battery pack that powers the suit, a chest-positioned control unit, a wristband remote control, and two motorized leg supports that strap to the waist and around the legs. The wearer directs the ReWalk with subtle movements in the upper body and uses forearm crutches for additional support and balance. The device has several modes, which allow the wearer to walk, climb stairs, and switch between sitting and standing.

The ReWalk is now undergoing clinical trials with users like Kaiof at Sheba Medical Centre, Tel Aviv, and will soon be introduced in trials at the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is scheduled for commercial sale in 2010, and Argo says its price hasn't been established it. It does say, "we're targeting for an annual consumer (end-user) price comparable with typical average annual expenses of people confined to wheelchairs." High-end motorized wheelchairs cost upwards of $20,000.

The ReWalk could not only vastly increase mobility for people with paralysis, but could potentially reduce the medical complications that often accompany wheelchair use, such as pressure sores, urinary and digestive problems, and breathing problems. Goffer, who was himself paralyzed in a 1997 accident, cannot use his own device in its current iteration because he does not have complete use of his arms. He said of the ReWalk, "It raises people out of their wheelchair and lets them stand up straight.... It's not just about health, it's also about dignity."

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