Last summer, we covered the news that the ReWalk exoskeleton received FDA approval for personal use in the United States. This year, at the ShowStoppers press event at CES 2015, I got the opportunity to see the product in person, and chat with some of the folks from ReWalk Robotics. If you’re not familiar with the product, it is an exoskeleton that you can strap on your legs to provide powered hip and knee motion that allows individuals with lower limb disabilities to walk again. The system responds to the wearer’s intention to walk, and mimics a normal walking gait (as compared with the plodding motion of many robotic devices) with a heel/toe strike sequence.
The system bears its own weight, so the only load that the wearer carries is the five-pound battery that is contained in a backpack. The system allows the wearer to independently sit, stand, walk, and turn, offering some mobility advantages over using a wheelchair. The company also cites physical and psychological benefits that come from using the system.
As the system gets wider use, the company continues to research the benefits and potential healthcare cost savings that come from using the ReWalk exoskeleton. They are also studying the impact on the various leg joints affected by wearing the device. They are looking into its suitability for patients with injuries or diseases besides spinal cord damage, and make further improvements in the design. They continue to add functionality to the system; they already provide stair-climbing in Europe, and hope to add this feature in the United States soon.
This is an excellent example of how a wearable Health Tech product can have a profound impact on the health and quality of life for individuals.