No longer will those in wheelchairs have to dream about getting up and walking again. Bionic legs or exoskeletons have been showing up recently as technology progresses, and they are quickly becoming more and more affordable as well as more advanced. The latest and probably the most advanced robotic legs to appear are the eLegs by Berkeley Bionics.
The eLegs are based on the first generation ExoHiker (completed in 2005 and released in 2007 to the public) along with the more recent Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) and other models which are used in the military for soldiers and licensed with Lockheed and Martin. The Robotics system is comprised of two powered anthropomorphic legs, a power unit, and a small on-board micro computer. This product allows soldiers to carry an extra 200 pounds, and further developments have reduced the amount of energy required for a person to walk at the same time as reducing the amount of shock the legs receive which results in less stress on the knees and back. Now the HULC virtually eliminates all load forces on the person’s body. It weighs about 30 pounds and can be taken off in seconds. A control allows the person to change preferences on the behavior of the suit, and it can be adjusted easily to suit people of all different heights. The person can walk or run while carrying heavy loads, and other fluid motions performed by the body are possible such as crawling, leaping, or side-stepping. The backpack attached to the system that is used in the military to carry heavy loads can be ejected nearly instantaneously for emergency situations. The HULC folds up to fit in a small box and can be carried by hand. No assistance is needed when putting on the robotic legs, and the computer immediately takes over once the user is in the suit. The computer calculates where the user wants to move, and the hydraulics system reacts to mimic and enhance movement.
Licensing was also given to the University of Berkeley in California in the Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory where a new prototype of the exoskeleton was developed for paraplegics, the eLegs. The exoskeleton has already been undergoing dramatic changes in the size, weight to make this available for home use. It is believed that persons will be able to walk within days or months of breaking the spinal cord in an injury with the future of eLegs. This will prevent many psychological as well as physical effects of being in a wheelchair.
Amanda Boxtel was astounded to be walking again in the eLegs after 18 years of being in a chair due to a T11/T12 spinal injury. Stating how natural it was to be walking again, Gabrielle was overjoyed. She had spent years imagining what suit or avatar would allow her to walk again, and almost immediately after trying out her new eLegs, she was upright and walking on her own.
The new eLegs in development will be for all-day use to allow users to get back into the real world and do day-to-day activities that were not possible before. Another application for the eLegs will include rehabilitiation of users with functioning legs that will provide assistive or resistive forces to retrain their muscles so they can return to normal function.
The price has not been mentioned as this product was just announced this morning, so stay tuned. You can view the press conference on their website at 10:30 am PST here (1:30 EST) – http://berkeleybionics.com/
In the time that we wrote this story, the video was taken down for the new eLegs and we can’t find anything about it on the Berkeley Robotics website, but we found some videos based on the military system currently in use, the HULC. We’ll place the embedded code for the eLegs link as the bottom video on this page so you will be able to see it once it is available. We expect it will come back after the press conference.
The HULC System:
The Berkeley Bionics Exoskeleton:
Berkeley Bionics: Introducing eLEGS: