Monday, May 30, 2011

Spinal Implants Allow Paraplegic To Walk

There have been many announcements about exoskeletons allowing wheelchair users to walk. But the Lancet has reported how Rob Summers, a paraplegic has been enabled to stand again using an experimental procedure, devised primarily by UCLA neurobiologist V. Reggie Edgerton. According to MIT Technology Review:

The therapy consisted of a stimulator device originally designed to treat chronic pain, which was implanted near the spinal cord.

Watch Prof Susan Harkema, from Kentucky Spinal Cord Research Center discuss how this new procedure works:


This is still early days for this therapy and while it is hopeful that such stimulation can help, exoskeletons may be more likely to help in the short term. Read more about exoskeletons for wheelchair users.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Affordable Exoskeleton For Wheelchair Users?

Researchers from University of California at Berkeley (GO BEARS!) are working on a more affordable exoskeleton for wheelchair users. Now, these are not just any researchers. This team is headed by Prof Kazerooni. In case you do not know that name, Kazerooni is a GIANT in the exoskeleton industry having been the mastermind behind eLEGS and HULC exoskeleton. Look at what Kazerooni has to say about the new, more affordable "Austin Exoskeleton":

What distinguishes the Austin exoskeleton from the others out there is its simplicity for unsupervised in-home use and its lower cost,” said Kazerooni. “We made the conscious decision to only focus on key functions to keep the cost down. Users won’t be able to walk backward or climb ladders with the Austin exoskeleton, but what we sacrifice in capability, we gain in accessibility and affordability. Just getting people to be upright and take steps forward is already a huge advance in increasing independence.

Watch Austin Whitney, the guy who the exoskeleton is named for, walk during his graduation ceremony at UC Berkeley:

To be sure, the Austin Exoskeleton is years away from the market. But if anyone can make it happen it is Prof Kazerooni. Read more about Prof Kazerooni's eLEGS exoskeleton.

Monday, May 16, 2011

HAL Exoskeleton Should Be Demonstrated By Wheelchair Users

A new video from Cyberdyne displaying the HAL exoskeleton at a conference in Japan called “International Forum on Cybernics 2011” on 8th-9th of March 2011 has appeared on Youtube.

While the video of HAL shows impressive technology, what is disappointing is that, as usual HAL the exoskeleton is being demonstrated by young, attractive able-bodied people rather than people that the device was intended to help:

I certainly hope that as HAL and Cyberdyne become more international, that other people will influence the Japanese management and get real people with real disabilities to not only demonstrate the product but perhaps even work in the company and influence the direction of the corporation.

Read more about the HAL exoskeleton for wheelchair users.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Super Heros In Wheelchairs

Photo From Liquid Comics

I am delighted to see that attitudes towards people with disabilities are changing to the point that some Super Heros use wheelchairs. For example, Silver Scorpion is a new Super Hero who is a disabled muslim boy. According to this article in Time Magazine:

The Silver Scorpion is the brainchild of a group of young disability advocates from the U.S. and Syria. Brought together at the first international Youth Ability Summit in Damascus in August 2010, the attendees, who are all disabled, were asked to create a superhero who reflects what they have always wanted to see in a comic book.

But The Silver Scorpion is not the first Wheelchair Using Super Heros. Soldier Zero is an ex-marine who "While on a trip back home from Afghanistan his convoy was attacked by a bombing, which killed his entire team and also rendered him unable to walk!"

From 1966 to 1988, Barbara Gordon was the superheroine Batgirl; since 1989 she has been known as Oracle. In "Batman: The Killing Joke" Barbara was shot and and paralyzed by the Joker.

Takashi "Taki" Matsuya or sometimes called the Wiz Kid who "lost his parents and his ability to walk in a car accident".

The list of Super Heros in Wheelchairs go on. Why? Because comic book publishers are trying to creat characters with whom they can identify. Since 1% of the population uses wheelchairs, it makes sense that some of the Superheros should use them as well. Why don't Hollywood producers understand this when they use able-bodied actors to play the roles of wheelchair users?

Not all Superheros who use wheelchairs are fictional. Read about Aaron Fortheringham, the first person to do a backflip in a Wheelchair or Martin Braxenthalerthe the most successful mono-skier in the history.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Pimped Out 2-Gear Wheelchair Wheels

Have a look at these cool camoflaged wheelchair wheels from Magic Wheels. You may not even notice that there is anything different about them until you look very closely. That is because they are camoflaged and they blend in so well with the grassy background. You may need to click on the image and expand it in order to see it more closely:

These cool camo wheels are owned by Micheal Beck of North Carolina. Beck was injured in a helicopter accident while in the Army. After an initial bout of depression, Micheal got married and lives a very active lifestyle. Micheal drags mustangs, flies a paraglider, coaches high school football, pilots a boat and hunts. The hunting, I imagine explains the cool camo wheels.

Beck's story of his injury and his come back is described beautifully in this blog post called Adapt and Overcome.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A New Exoskeleton Website is Launched In German Language

We are pleased to announce the fifth website with information about exoskeletons for wheelchair users. Previously we have announced websites in English, Spanish, French and Italian languages. Today we announce the launch of our German language website.

The website, named Exoskelett, is a translated version of our original English language website with all of the same news, information and updates for wheelchair users.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rex Bionics Sells First Exoskeleton For Wheelchair Users

Rex Bionics has sent me a press release announcing their first exoskeleton sale. This exoskeleton was sold to a New Zealand Paralympian. I contacted Rex to clarify if it is their first sale or their first sale to a consumer, and was assured by Mike Steward at Rex "This was most certainly our first Rex sold to consumer or otherwise".


After unveiling the world's first robotic legs last year, Auckland based company Rex Bionics has made its first sale to Dave MacCalman, a New Zealand Paralympian.

The custom-fitted robotic exoskeleton has allowed Dave MacCalman, who sustained a spinal cord injury diving into a river while in the United States on a basketball scholarship, to take his first steps in more than 30 years.

“It is hard to describe what it has been like to be back on my feet again. I’m six-foot-four so it’s been amazing to experience life from that height again. I'm looking forward to taking my Rex home and being able to stand around and socialise with family and friends,” says Dave MacCalman.

The ex-Wellington basketball rep and Brisbane Bullets player enjoyed a successful basketball coaching career before deciding to become an elite sportsman again. Dave MacCalman broke a number of world records during his athletic career and represented New Zealand at four Paralympics and two World Athletic Championships, wining four Gold and four Silver medals. Dave captained the 1992 New Zealand Paralympic team to Barcelona and holds the current World Record for quadriplegic pentathlon. He became a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2000 for his services to disability sport.

Dave got in touch with Rex Bionics after seeing Rex on the news last year and was invited to trial the device.

“I was a little bit apprehensive getting into the Rex for the first time. The first few steps required intense concentration, but it was truly exhilarating and I was buzzing at the end of the first session,” says Dave.

“It’s like starting out in a wheelchair; you need to find out the limits of the device so that you can use it safely. I'm known to push my limits and I intend to use my Rex to its full potential."

Dave has now done hours of training familiarising himself with the machine. He will be required to do a few more hours of training before he gets to take his Rex home with him, but expects to be walking around his house, with the help of Rex, in a few weeks.

“We believe this is the first time in the world a robotic exoskeleton has been sold to a consumer. We are delighted to have made our first sale to such an incredible New Zealander,” says Jenny Morel, CEO of Rex Bionics.

“The team has put in a significant amount of work since the launch, getting the product market-ready, fine tuning and completing testing. Now we can’t wait to see how Dave integrates Rex into his social, work and home activities.”

Along with increased mobility, Dave believes the Rex will also improve his health and wellness through the movement and weight bearing it permits in his legs.

Speaking in support of the Rex Bionics invention Dr Cynthia Bennett, Clinical Head of Auckland Spinal Rehabilitation Unit, says there are significant health and wellness benefits for Rex users.

“The obvious, immediate benefits of Rex include improved social interaction and standing mobility with access to objects above a seated level. In addition, numerous long term health and wellness benefits will occur by reducing the time spent sitting in a wheelchair.”

Each Rex is built onsite at the Rex Bionics’ Auckland plant. Rex has been designed to be practical, stable, safe, simple to use and sufficiently powered for a typical day of use thanks to a long-life rechargeable battery.

Read more about Rex Exoskeleton For Wheelchair Users