American Elephants


How About Some Really Good News That Is NOT Political? by The Elephant's Child

A California robotics company called suitX has presented it’s Phoenix exoskeleton to the public. It makes it possible for paraplegics and those with mobility disorders to regain their ability to walk, which is a priceless blessing. It is not the first exoskeleton, which was developed in Israel, but it is the most affordable so far, at about the price of a new Cadillac.

SuitX is led by Dr. Homayoon Kazerooni, who is director of the Berkley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory and co-founder and chief scientist of Ekso Bionics. Dr. Kazerooni and his team are driven by a dream of developing low-cost consumer bionic products to improve the quality of life for the disabled. To achieve their goal of keeping the robotics as affordable as possible the team worked with biomechanics instead of the bulky robotics used in the other exoskeletons available so far. One of their prime goals is to help children affected by neurological conditions like cerebral palsy and spina bifida, during the brief time in development when they perfect their walking skills.

The current Phoenix totals around 28 pounds. It consists of modules made for a person’s hips, knees and feet — each can be independently removed and adjusted to the individual’s exact size. A back-mounted battery pack provides power for eight hours of intermittent use or  four hours of continuous use.The Phoenix can move a paralyzed person at a speed of 1.1 miles an hour, the company said.

Steven Sanchez was a former BMX dirt bike rider who became mostly paralyzed by a sports injury. He’s now one of the biggest proponents of the Phoenix. “It feels like you’re actually walking,”

The exoskeleton has silent carbon-fiber orthotics capable of being customized to its wearer. Attached to the orthotics are small motors that provide mobility to the hips and legs. Crutches provide upper body support and are integrated into the orthotics, allowing the wearer to control the movement of each leg with the touch of a button. A built-in back-mounted battery pack provides the wearer with 8 hours of intermittent or 4 hours of continual use.

Weighing around 27 pounds, the Phoenix is not the lightest exoskeleton on the market, but it is comparatively lighter than competing suits such as the more cumbersome 50 pound ReWalk.

While still costlier than a motorized wheelchair, the minimal design translates into a lower-cost exoskeleton; the Phoenix costs just $40,000 in a market where prices range from $70,000 to $100,000.

Dr. Kazerooni is more interested in cleverness. He says you can buy a motorcycle with all sorts of technology for $10,000, so he’s hoping to reduce the cost even more within two or three years— something robust and simple that walks, stops. sits and stands — hugely enabling.

Steven Sanchez tests the product monthly and demonstrates the product all over the world. He wore the Phoenix on a trip to the Vatican, and stood in line like anyone else — “wearing an “awesome robotic suit” and “no one cared.” For those who can only dream of walking, that is a very big deal indeed.


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