I have come across a new device which may be of interest to many wheelchair users interested in exoskeletons, called the "Cadence Kinetic Orthosis". At first glance, the frame of the Orthosis looks a bit like that of an exoskeleton. However, it works very differently. According to the company:
Cadence’s Kinetic Orthosis uses no motors or batteries to enable walking. Instead, it relies on a proprietary tuned system of cams and springs to capture energy during the beginning of a step, and then return that energy at the end of a step to amplify muscular strength and enable users to walk faster and walk longer..
As it requires no motors or batteries, it is alot simpler than current exoskeletons and will be alot less expensive. The question is, does it work? While I have been skeptical, I have had an email exchange with the CEO of Cadence, Brian Glaister, who has been kind enough to supply me with information about the product. Most recently, Brian supplied me with a press release stating that "a woman with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), was able to use Cadence’s Kinetic Orthosis to take her first steps on her own since 2005." Watch her walk using the new Orthosis. (Note, there is a person walking behind her, holding onto a strap just in case she were to fall, but she does not. You can see a hand in the video, but they are providing no support.)
Additional information about the Cadence "test pilot", Heather Montag:
Normally, Heather can walk for short durations if someone holds on to her hand for support. She has walked with the Kinetic Orthosis twice, and the first time she tried the device she was able to walk for over an hour with support. The second time she used the device, she decided to try to walk without support and was successful.
In addition, the new press release states "Cadence is currently recruiting additional test subjects for a research study further investigating the performance of the Kinetic Orthosis and is preparing to release the device to the marketplace in early 2012." So, if you would like to be involved in testing this new device, contact Cadence for more information. If you test their device, contact me as well (RehaDesign "AT" Gmail "DOT" com) because I would be interested in hearing about your experiences.
Read more about exoskeletons for wheelchair users.