The Rehab Exoskeletons

Technology: Since DARPA began developing them in 2001, modern exoskeletons—the hydraulic bodysuits worn to enhance a wearer’s strength and speed—have been primarily used by the military. But the medical uses are obvious. In an exoskeleton, a person who has suffered a spinal-cord injury no longer needs a wheelchair. The suits also reduce repetitive stress injuries when worn by construction crews. And now, they can be used to help stroke patients regain the ability to walk. This year, Ekso Bionics’ Ekso GT suit became the first exoskeleton approved by the FDA for
treating stroke victims, which means twenty times more patients can be treated. Here’s how the GT works.

navy-exoskeletonThe benefit of the exoskeleton that it helps the body find alternative routes to movement, working around muscles with limited function and creating new neural pathways, says: Allan Kozlowski, an assistant professor at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine (who uses the GT in physical therapy with his patients).

A technology called Variable Assist allows Ekso to read how hard the suit is working to support the patient. A therapist reads this information, then adjusts the controls to personalize. In contrast to other types of exoskeletons, the GT’s motors can be individually controlled. If one side of the body works well on its own, as is the case with many stroke patients, the suit can leave it alone.

Backpack: The backpack holds the GT’s batteries and also provides trunk support so users don’t need walkers or arm supports to remain upright.

Seat: A patient sits in the suit as he would in a chair, fastening Velcro straps around his legs, torso, and feet. A therapist initiates the sit-to-stand procedure, then controls the patient’s movements
using a Nintendo-like device on the back of the suit.

Straps: Since many patients can’t feel skin irritations, which can lead to abrasions, the suit straps are made of custom-sewn Velcro back stitched for maximum comfort.

Knobs: The legs and torso are adjustable to fit nearly any body size.

Material: The fifty-five pound Ekso GT is mostly made of aluminum.