Robotic suits that allow paralysed people to walk again – fact or fiction? It doesn’t seem that long ago when we would have thought that such technology was light years away.
But science fiction is becoming a reality due to two British engineers, who have pioneered a hi-tech robotic suit, or exoskeleton, costing £95,000. The REX Bionics exoskeleton is one of just 17 in the world and has helped an English rugby fan, who was left paralysed from the neck down, to walk again for the first time.
Whilst wearing a cap with 79 electrodes, filled with ultrasound gel that pick up brain signals, the user of the suit is able to ‘think’ about walking and the robotic skeleton does the rest!
Rob Camm, who is now 21 years old, sustained life-changing injuries in a car crash in September 2013, just days before he was due to start his degree at the University of York. Mr Camm was left tetraplegic – tetraplegia is also known as quadriplegia and describes paralysis caused by illness or injury that results in the partial or total loss of use of all their limbs and torso. The loss is usually sensory and motor, which means that both sensation and control are lost. In Mr Camm’s case, he was left with total paralysis from the neck down, even relying on a ventilator in order to breath.
As a former rugby player living an active life, such serious injuries are of course pretty devastating to Mr Camm. Therefore, technology which allows him to experience any freedom of movement is a phenomenal step forward.
Speaking to The Daily Mail, Mr Camm said, “It is amazing to be thinking about doing something, and then actually doing it. For me, just walking itself is unusual and then controlling the walking myself as well – I don’t know how to describe it to be honest.”
The Rex Exoskeleton sees a cap placed on Mr Camm’s head which is covered in electrodes filled with ultrasound gel. Mr Camm then thinks about the process of walking and the cap picks up signals from the brain. As he thinks walking thoughts, the cap reads signals from his brain and relays them to a computer in the exoskeleton which is attached to his torso and legs. The computer then decodes these messages and sends them to the hydraulic legs, which step forward as Mr Camm thinks about making the movement.
Mr Camm went on to say, “What they wanted me to do first was to imagine REX walking, and imagine the process that it goes through. So, left leg up, left leg forward and so on. The strange thing is looking down at my toes and seeing them moving. When you haven’t been doing that for quite a while, it’s just a strange experience.”
At CFG Law we handle many cases where people have sustained life-changing injuries and we are dedicated 100% to finding the most effective ways of speeding their recovery. Technological developments aimed at helping those who have been seriously injured to obtain some of their former skills are very exciting.
Philip Coulthurst, Head of Serious Injury at CFG Law said, “We are particularly interested in cutting edge technology, such as this robotic exoskeleton from REX Bionics, which brings hope to those who are left unable to walk unaided. Although relatively early in its development, we understand that as this technology advances, it is hoped that the machine will become more reliable and may even be controlled through eye movement and under-skin implants. Science fiction really is becoming science fact due to the incredible engineering of businesses such as REX Bionics. We will be following its development progress with great interest and have high hopes for its future.”