The Berkeley, Calif., warehouse is the home of Ekso Bionics, a young company that’s about to step out onto the world stage. Early this year the company will begin selling its Ekso suit to rehab clinics in the United States and Europe, to allow patients with spinal cord injuries to train with the device under a doctor’s supervision. By the middle of 2012, the company plans to have a model for at-home physical therapy.
When you don the Ekso, you are essentially strapping yourself to a sophisticated robot. It supports its own 20-kilogram weight via the skeletal legs and footrests and takes care of the calculations needed for each step. Your job is to balance your upper body, shifting your weight as you plant a walking stick on the right; your physical therapist will then use a remote control to signal the left leg to step forward. In a later model the walking sticks will have motion sensors that communicate with the legs, allowing the user to take complete control.
“We took the idea of the external skeleton, and we added nerves in the form of sensors and motors that represent your muscles and computers that represent your brain,” says Eythor Bender, CEO of Ekso Bionics.