Robotic exoskeletons are…alive!

It seems like ages–in reality, only two years or so [TTA 19 Dec 15]–that this Editor was writing hopefully about advances in exoskeletons such as ReWalk and Wyss, EKSO plus DARPA research in assisting the mobility of paraplegics and others who need assistance in major movement. And then the news went rather dark, though ReWalk is now in its sixth iteration.

So it is heartening to be able to report that an established healthcare robotics company, Toronto’s Bionik Laboratories, is investing in a joint venture with Boston-based Wistron Corporation, an industrial design and manufacturing company, to further develop the Bionik ARKE lower body exoskeleton. Bionik’s emphasis has been on rehabilitative hospital-to-home upper body robotics to assist patients with regaining mobility. The ARKE appears to be both rehabilitative and assistive for patients in the home. Once developed in the JV, Wistron would be the sole manufacturer. 

According to Crunchbase, Bionik raised $13.1 million in a July 2015 private placement specifically to develop the ARKE (MassDevice). This past May, they raised about $2 million from Hong Kong’s Ginger Capital in a separate JV to sell their robotics into the Chinese market. Bionik partnered with IBM starting last year to develop machine learning to analyze the data generated by the ARKE (FierceBiotech).

The target market for the Bionik/Wistron JV is not in this context a surprise. It is the booming older adult Asian market, where the aging/elderly population is projected to hit 983 million by 2050. Many especially in China and India live in rural areas and aren’t covered by any pension or old-age support (ADB Research). It is not clear to this Editor how expensive lower-body exoskeletons will be supported financially either privately or by government.  Bionik release, FierceBiotech

ReWalk powered exoskeleton now covered by the VA (US)

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/rewalk.jpg” thumb_width=”200″ /]The advancement of robotic assistance in movement and walking took a sizable step forward (so to speak) with the Veterans Administration now covering the cost of and transition to the ReWalk powered exoskeleton on a national basis. It will be supplied to qualifying veterans with spinal cord injuries, but that qualification is a substantial hurdle in itself. According to the AP article, height and weight requirements are specific, and the paraplegic veteran has to be capable of wearing the supportive belt around the waist to keep the suit in place and carrying a backpack which holds the computer and rechargeable battery. Crutches still must be used for stability and the FDA as part of its clearance requires an assistant be nearby. It also cannot be worn for a full day, but even minimal use was proven to be beneficial; in VA pilot studies, the paraplegics who wore the ReWalk as little as four hours a week for three to five months experienced better bowel and bladder function, reduced back pain, improved sleep and less fatigue.

ReWalk has identified 45 paralyzed veterans who qualify, (more…)

‘Soft’ exoskeleton gains $2.9 million in DARPA funding

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/warrior-web-award-1.png” thumb_width=”120″ /]The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering an additional $2.9 million in development funding for its Soft Exosuit currently in prototype. The Wyss exoskeleton concept uses sensors, fabric that mimics muscles and tendons in addition to intuitive controls and a power supply. DARPA has been supporting several levels of research for some years as part of Warrior Web and other initiatives, which your Editors have been following. Exoskeletons in use right now are designed to assist humans in heavy lifting, or (more…)

Exoskeleton to aid paraplegic in charity walk (US)

This past Sunday, architect Robert Woo walked a mile in NYC’s Riverside Park for Generosity NYC 5K. Now that would not be remarkable at all except that Mr. Woo is a paraplegic, and he is walking that mile with the aid of an Argo ReWalk exoskeleton. He and his ReWalk-equipped teammates are raising funds as Team ReWalk to aid the Bronx Medical Veterans Research Foundation/James J. Peters VA Medical Center’s Exoskeletal-Assisted Walking Program. Mr. Woo’s story is a memorable and courageous one from the time of his injury in a horrific construction-related accident six years ago; more in Paralyzed By Seven Tons Of Steel, Man Now Walks With A Bionic Suit (Gothamist). Video in this local CBS News clip. This is certainly the most developed version of an exoskeleton and robotics to enable paraplegics to walk, yet it is still not easy and requires specialized training; most exoskeletons to date have concentrated on assisting lower body movement. Hat tip to Donald Andrews of New York-Presbyterian/Lev El Medical via LinkedIn Groups.