Space & Innovation

Low-Cost Exoskeleton Helps Paraplegics Walk Again

The streamlined Phoenix from SuitX takes a minimalistic approach to bring down the cost.

In the relentless torrent of high technology news that rushes past each day, it can be easy to miss the good stuff. For example, the debut of a cleverly designed exoskeleton that helps paraplegics walk again - and that the average person can actually afford.

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Powered exoskeleton technology - a completely sci-fi concept just a decade ago - has become a legitimate option for many paraplegics. By way of motorized limbs and joints, powered exoskeletons enable people with certain kinds of paralysis and spinal injuries to walk again. The trouble is that exoskeleton suits are prohibitively expensive for almost everyone.

SuitX, a startup company based in Berkeley, Calif., is hoping to address the issue with its Phoenix robotic system. Relatively lightweight at 27 pounds - and relatively affordable at $40,000 - the Phoenix takes a minimalist approach to the exoskeleton concept.

According to this interesting profile over at Fast Company, the Phoenix suit was designed from the ground up to do one thing and one thing only - help paraplegics walk.

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By dispensing with the multipurpose approach taken by other industrial exoskeleton designs, the company was able to shed a great deal of weight and expense.

The Phoenix suit uses just two motors, situated at each hip. The hip joints move each leg forward, while the knee joints operate as simple locking hinges. Users still need to use crutches to guide and stabilize the system. Because the Phoenix is designed for slow walking on level surfaces, the suit doesn't need powered knee joints for twisting or leaping.

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SuitX is also developing heavy-duty exoskeleton robots for industry and workplace applications, and the company hopes to get the Phoenix price point down by scaling up production on all its models.

The Phoenix goes on sale next month, but the plan is to make a lightweight exoskeleton - one that walks, stops, sits and stands - available for the price of a motorcycle within two or three years.

via Fast Company