[00:00.00]An accident, a disease or other health problems leave more than 15 million people a year paralyzed.
[00:12.37]They have lost control of their legs and are unable to walk.
[00:19.77]But new technology, along with physical exercise, could help some of them walk again.
[00:29.39]Among the most promising developments is the use of robotic exoskeletons, like ones made by Ekso Bionics.
[00:44.12]The exoskeleton is worn on the user’s back and around the stomach.
[00:51.85]Robotic ‘legs’ with ‘feet’ extend from both sides of the device and go around the user’s legs.
[01:04.99]A video game-style controller connects to the device.
[01:11.43]Lindsey Stoefen is working to recover from a rare disorder that has forced her to use a wheelchair since last October.
[01:25.33]She now does physical therapy with the exoskeleton for an hour a day.
[01:34.40]The 17-year-old former athlete is a patient at the Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.
[01:46.70]She climbed into a specially designed exoskeleton for the first time in late April.
[01:56.41]Stoefen remembers being nervous.
[02:01.03]“Am I going to like it? Will I be okay?’ she asked. But once she got into it, she loved it.
[02:10.85]Lauren Bularzik, Lindsey’s physical therapist, says the robotic exoskeletons help to speed up the recovery process.
[02:24.58]“For someone who takes a lot of energy to only walk a few feet, exo can get them up, can get them moving,” Bularzik said.
[02:37.85]She added that it can improve a person’s movements, and lets the person plan those movements.
[02:47.09]Besides speeding up recovery times, these robotic skeletons are especially helpful for those suffering from paralysis, from spinal cord injuries or strokes.
[03:04.26]Using the machine can help some patients rewire their brains to use secondary muscles, so they can eventually walk again - without the device.
[03:18.80]American scientists are leading the way with their work on wearable robots that help patients regain some or all of their movement.
[03:32.06]Patrick Wensing is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
[03:43.08]He notes that exoskeletons have one major problem.
[03:48.85]“While existing exoskeletons are very powerful, they don’t understand what the user wants to do,” Wensing said.
[03:59.90]He added that the user has to give the exoskeleton directions.
[04:07.16]Wensing and his team are working with Ekso Bionics, the developer of wearable robots.
[04:15.21]Their goal is to build a simpler system.
[04:20.14]They hope to create a machine that can understand what its user wants to do without implanted sensors and complex controls.
[04:33.32]The National Science Foundation’s robotic program is providing support for the three-year project.
[04:43.18]Taylor Gambon has spent the past year examining information from exoskeleton users and comparing it to models of everyday walking.
[04:58.22]“What we’re seeing is that slow walking in general, whether in the exoskeleton or just the human, is much different from walking at a (normal) speed,” Gambon said.
[05:13.82]Later this year, the team will travel to Ekso Bionics' headquarters, where they will work with exoskeletons to design programs for users with many disabilities.
[05:30.34]I’m Susan Shand.