Bionic Suits Are Real And They're Transforming Everyday Life

Engineers are pioneering new technology to not only help paralyzed patients walk, but also transform life for industrial workers.

Inside an abandoned Ford automobile factory in Northern California, a wall-mounted digital counter increases in numbers throughout the day. Each change in the digits signifies a very modern achievement - a step has been taken with the Ekso Bionics exoskeleton suit.

The suits are designed to help people with spinal cord injuries, or those who have suffered a stroke, stand and take steps again - something many are told they'll never be able to do again.

"Humans are amazing," said Russ Angold, Ekso Bionics' chief technology officer and co-founder. "I think the holy grail, really, is having these devices give them their own capability back, and that's probably the best end state."

The exoskeletons are accessible around the country at hospitals for rehabilitative uses, in hopes that one day the patient will no longer need the suit to walk.

While at Ekso Bionics, Seeker met Matt Tilford, who was only 18 years old and a few days away from high school graduation when he became paralyzed after a car accident.

Four years later, Tilford got a life-changing opportunity to test out a new exoskeleton rehabilitation device for the first time.

"It felt absolutely amazing to be bearing my own weight, my legs holding myself up within the device. It was surreal," said Tilford. "It felt like I was floating in a sense."

Given the scope of Matt's injuries, it's unlikely he'll ever walk without an exoskeleton. But that doesn't mean the suit doesn't have other major benefits.

"It gives them that sense of independence back a little bit," said Michael Glover. Michael Glover is a physical therapist with Ekso Bionics, and travels around the country introducing the technology to hospitals and rehabilitation centers. "There are other benefits just of being upright. You might have improvements of your bowel and your bladder function. Some people have some pain stemming from their nerves because they're just in that improper position. That sometimes goes away with some folks."

Tilford credits the suit, which he assists Ekso Bionics in designing based on his feedback, with helping him readjust to many new aspects of his life.

"I think every time I go from sit to stand, a smile comes to my face, just knowing that I'm at eye level with everyone else," said Tilford. "It's going to give people the opportunity to do things that they weren't able to before. And it's cool to be on the forefront of it."