Several months ago a client of mine, who was rendered a paraplegic in a motor vehicle accident, participated in a research study of exoskeletons conducted at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton. During that study, she was given the opportunity to practice with an exoskeleton for up to four hours each day for several months.
Wikipedia defines powered exoskeleton as:
A powered exoskeleton (also known as powered armor, power armor, exoframe, hardsuit, or exosuit) is a wearable mobile machine that is powered by a system of electric motors, pneumatics, levers, hydraulics, or a combination of technologies that allow for limb movement with increased strength and endurance.
For my client, the exoskeleton is a means to walk again. The exoskeleton straps onto the torso as well as to the paralysed lower body. It is controlled by the user through buttons that are located on handheld crutches which are used for additional support and balance. However, there will soon be available exoskeletons that are controlled by nerve signals which detect the wearer’s intentions. Electrodes are placed within or near the area of the brain that controls walking. When the appropriate brain signal is detected the user will walk, with the aid of the exoskeleton, simply by intending to walk.
My client loved the experience, the independence and the thrill — yes, the thrill — the exoskeleton gave her. She is looking forward to the day when she can have one of her own.