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February 02, 2016      

suitX, a robotics company spun out of University of California, Berkeley’s Human Engineering Lab, has launched its Phoenix exoskeleton that is designed to help people with mobility disorders walk again. suitX, also known as U.S. Bionics, is now taking orders for the Phoenix exoskeleton, which will be available in March 2016.

Phoenix costs $40,000, which certainly isn’t cheap, but the company says it’s “the least expensive of all the medical exoskeletons.” For example, ReWalk’s exoskeleton, which recently started being covered by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, costs $77,000. And Ekso Bionics, which interestingly was also founded by suitX CEO Dr. Homayoon Kazerooni, sells exoskeletons for about $100,000 apiece.

And Phoenix weighs just 27 pounds, positioning itself among the lightest exoskeletons out there. And it will soon get even lighter. The company says a lighter battery is in development that will drop the overall weight of the Phoenix exoskeleton to 25 pounds.

suitX’s Phoenix exoskeleton has a 4-hour battery life for continuous walking, an 8-hour battery life for intermittent use and a maximum walking speed of 1.1 MPH. That speed is a little slower than ReWalk, which has the fastest walking speed of any exoskeleton at 1.6 MPH, so Phoenix users will sacrifice speed for less weight.

The Phoenix exoskeleton consists of a hip module, two knee modules and two feet modules so users have the freedom to choose a module tailored for their intended activity. Users can independently put on and remove each component and it can be easily adjusted to fit different-sized users. suitX says the gait parameters can be tuned by a trained physical therapist through an Android app.

This video demo of the suitX Phoenix exoskeleton is from 2014.

“We started suitX out of our passion to develop low-cost consumer bionic products to improve the quality of life for people around the world,” Dr. Kazerooni said. “We have tackled problems associated with design, human machine interface (HMI), actuation, power management, and control during the development of our medical exoskeletons. We designed the Phoenix to be accessible and versatile so that it can be used by children.”

suitX is also one of 20 semifinalists in the AI & Robotics for Good Competition, which had 664 entries from 121 countries competing for a $1 million international prize and a AED 1 Million national prize. The winners will be announced Feb. 5. suitX’s entry is an exoskeleton for kids with neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida. This exoskeleton builds on the Phoenix platform with several modifications in hardware and software to improve the acquisition of locomotion skills by children. Watch the video below to see how suitX its pediatric exoskeleton will teach children how to walk.