A new powered exoskeleton is enabled the disabled to walk again. Created by a small Israeli startup, the Iron Man-like "ReWalk" suit is already making converts among those who have worn it. Former Israeli paratrooper Radi Kaiof, paralyzed in 1988, wears the suit walking around the streets of Haifa. "I never dreamed I would walk again", he says.
"Only when standing up can I feel how tall I really am and speak to people eye to eye, not from below".
The suit consists of motorized leg supports, a body sensors package, and a battery backpack. It operates via a remote control wristband, which contains various settings: sit, stand, walk, or climb. Once the user selects the appropriate action, they lean forward to activate the body sensors. In the current version crutches must be used to assist with balance; a more advanced model is eventually expected to dispense with this requirement.
Clinical trials are now underway in Israel's Sheba Medica Center.
The suit was invented by Israeli engineer Amit Goffer, who ironically was himself paralyzed in an accident in 1997. "It raises people out of their wheelchair and lets them stand up straight," explains Goffer, "It's not just about health, it's also about dignity." Goffer founded Argo Medical Technologies to develop and market the suit.
Argo's Chief Operating Officer Oren Tamari says that, while other agencies such as the US military are also developing powered exoskeletons, none besides the ReWalk will be operable by disabled people.
The suit is expected to go on sale for around $20,000, about the price of the most sophisticated wheelchairs now available.