Robotic exoskeletons are one of the most recent tools in physical therapy and rehabilitation. Their advantage is that they work toward restoring lost function in severely injured patients rather than merely compensating for their losses.
For spinal cord injury patients, the exoskeleton can be arranged to assist them with their steps, and over time can be ratcheted down, so patients do the work on their own. When they get tired, the robotic system senses the fatigue and kicks in support.
For stroke patients, who might lose function on one side of the body only, the system allows one leg to move unassisted while the other receives support.
Other technologies and approaches are being made for patients who need full support. Companies like 3D Systems and EksoBionics are on the leading edge. EksoBionics have designed a 3D-printed robotic suit called the Ekso™ that is helping patients overcome paralysis. This bionic exoskeleton is used in rehabilitation centers worldwide to help people who have lost the ability to walk due to stroke, injury, or developmental conditions such as cerebral palsy. Battery-powered motors drive the legs and make up for the lost brain-muscle function.
Much like the Ekso, the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX) is helping patients with impaired movement. The 3D-printed device can help restore movement to arms and legs in those with various developmental disorders. WREX developers have even created the world’s first “bionic man,” complete with functional hands, legs, organs, and eyes.