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Bionic Suits for Paralyzed People

Bionic Suits for Paralyzed People
By Amber Oneal

TP 202008 FUTURE 01In the past, bionic suits were only found in fiction movies and sci-fi animations in which a disabled or paralyzed person wears a suit or an exoskeleton and starts walking and running. At that time, it was an idea, a dream鈥撯揵ut today it is a reality.


Exoskeletons enable a paralyzed person to walk on his or her own two legs. They have helped partially and fully paralyzed people to walk freely and normally. The market for such equipment has been growing rapidly because of the demand. Now it is commercially available at affordable rates.


People paralyzed for various reasons are using exoskeletons to resume normal life. There are many variations to these suits as determined by the disability of the patient. Complete body suits, lower limbs and forearm exoskeletons are available, depending on the requirement.




The technology used

TP 202008 FUTURE 02There are two kinds of exoskeletons available, one of which is a powered exoskeleton while the other is a passive exoskeleton. Their use depends on the needs of the person; whether a complete or partial movement is required will determine whether the powered or passive version should be used.


The powered exoskeleton is a complete bionic suit that uses both mechanical and electric technology. It is like wearing a mobile suit fitted with electric motors, pneumatics, levers, hydraulics, etc. to empower limb movement. This bionic suit gives complete back support and detects the user鈥檚 movements through sensors. It then sends signals to the motors that move the suit. This exoskeleton supports back, shoulders and thighs for movement, and for holding and lifting heavy items.


The passive exoskeleton is not powered by a combination of technologies, but uses mechanical technology for supporting movement. This makes it more lightweight than the powered suit. It supports weight, and reduces effort and fatigue.


The Future of Bionic Suits

TP 202008 FUTURE 05Research on exoskeletons has been going on since 1960, and every passing year has shown great progress in this field. The year 2019 brought the good news of bionic suits controlled by the minds of the patients. This breakthrough was reported in French research in which a man named Thibault, aged 30, who was fully paralyzed, wore this powered and computerized suit and controlled it through his thoughts.


In this experiment, the patient had surgery in which implants were installed on top of his brain. The brain activity was reflected as instructions on a computer through the 64 electrodes on each implant.


Sophisticated software was used to convert that activity into instructions for the exoskeleton. When Thibault thought he should stand or walk, a chain of commands made the bionic suit cause his legs to stand up or move forward. He could also control and move his arms in three dimensions.


This is currently in the experimental stage, but since a successful experiment has been conducted, it can be seen as a breakthrough for further research. The suit is not the easiest or the most comfortable, weighing 65 kg, but it is a remarkable beginning that will hopefully lead to a better future in bionic suits for the paralyzed and disabled.


The competition

TP 202008 FUTURE 06There are other exoskeletons that are more affordable as well as being easier to use, and not involving complex computerized mechanisms. One example is the Phoenix suitX, which is a lightweight, simple medical exoskeleton. It just has two motors at the hips and is controlled by two crutches that come with it. There are buttons on the crutches that can be used to control sitting or standing, walking or not walking. This suit or exoskeleton is easy to wear, and a person can use it even without assistance.


There are other companies, such as ReWalk, that are also producing medical exoskeletons that are being well received, but the Phoenix Medical Exoskeleton is the easiest to use and most affordable compared to others. Its cost is estimated to be around $40,000.


The market is still not saturated, however, and there is a lot of scope for new companies to develop devices to be used for the disabled and paralyzed, enabling them to resume life as normally as possible. Robotics and AI are becoming the technology of the future, and combined, they can provide even better solutions in the medical field.

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