Mind-controlled robots assisting paralyzed humans have been all over the news recently. Although the research is compelling, it will be a long time before most of those devices are available on the open market. Ekso Bionics, whose bionic ?Ekso? suits mobilize users with pathologies that inhibit their ability to walk, is proving its value in rehabilitation centers throughout the United States already and announced its CE Marking Certification last week.
Since receiving FDA approval earlier this year, the company has targeted and sold Ekso suits to U.S. rehabilitation centers, including the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Kessler Foundation, TIRR Memorial Hermann, Craig Hospital, and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
CE Marking Certification makes all medical devices produced by Ekso Bionics available for shipment to over 30 EU and EFTA countries. The first European shipments began this week to Prosperius Tiberino Rehabilitation Clinic in Tuscany, Italy and the Princess Royal Spinal Cord Injury Center in Sheffield, UK.
Ekso is a ready-to-wear, battery-powered bionic suit that is strapped over the user?s clothing. The user doesn?t bear the weight, however, as the suit transfers its 45 lb. (20 kg) load directly to the ground. Each Ekso can be adjusted in a few minutes to fit most people weighing 220 pounds (100 kg) or less, and standing between 5?2? and 6?2? (157cm to 188cm), with at least partial upper body strength, and can be adjusted to fit one user and then another in minutes. The suit employs sensors and motors that provide knee flexion, which translates into a natural four point gait, thereby allowing Ekso to be used as a gait training tool.
The wearable robot also won the Gold Edison Award this April in the ?Best New Product, Assistive Devices? category. ?The exoskeleton is the first viable mobility option for people with spinal cord injuries since the development of the wheelchair and Ekso?s value is evident in the demand for the device,? said Ekso Bionics’ CEO Eythor Bender.
Bender is an executive with a history of action. He became CEO of the company in late 2010 and has 17 years in the bionics field. He previously took a company that makes artificial legs public, and before that worked at Hewlett-Packard Co.
Esko Bionics? background is just as solid. Ekso began as Berkeley Bionics? eLEGS with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The company and medical device underwent brand name changes in 2011. Since its inception Ekso Bionics has forged partnerships with world-class institutions like UC Berkeley, received research grants from the Department of Defense and licensed technology to the Lockheed Martin Corporation.
In an interview with FastCompany, Bender referred to the medical market as just the beginning. He envisions robotic frames for industrial workers, like miners, dockers and construction workers.
“We’re starting with soldiers and paralyzed people because their needs are great and the opportunity for funding is better,” Bender says. “But you can imagine exoskeletons for workers using tools too heavy to hold for more than a few minutes. And a consumer version for people who want to run a marathon or climb Mount Kilimanjaro.” Exoskeletons, he dreams, will be “the jeans of the future”–practical, fashionable, and streamlined enough to wear in economy class. He claims the company is on track to release a personal version to the consumer market within the next 2 years.