When we think of robots, we usually think of autonomous machines operating independently without any human intervention. However, there is one type of robot that has been gaining popularity in the past few years, and it is actually a robot that you wear. It’s called an exoskeleton, and it is helping people with disabilities walk again.
The idea of an apparatus for assisting movement goes all the way back to 1890 when a Russian engineer named Nicholas Yagin built a suit that used compressed gas to help people with movement. Over the years, the design has gone through many changes, but it seems like a few breakthroughs have been made in the past decade, making the original dream a reality.
Several companies offer a full robotic exoskeleton that can support the wearer’s weight and move their legs while keeping them perfectly balanced. As a result, people who have been using wheelchairs for years can suddenly stand upright and start walking. And this not only helps them regain more independence, it actually has some very significant health benefits.
Standing upright helps with blood circulation, helps with bowel and bladder control, and helps strengthen the core muscles. In addition, some users gain psychological benefits from standing eye-to-eye with conversation partners.
Learning to use an exoskeleton is more challenging than learning to operate a wheelchair. It requires a few training sessions before the user can start operating it by themselves. Plus, there is the matter of pricing. Exoskeleton suits are not cheap and current ones can cost between 10,000 to 80,000 dollars, which is outside the price range for many people.
However, with more and more companies entering the exoskeleton market, we will see the development of more intuitive and hopefully cheaper exo-suits that could help millions of people worldwide.