eLegs tester Amanda Boxtel hadn't walked since becoming paralyzed from the waist down during a skiing accident in Snowmass, Colo., in 1992.
Living life in a wheelchair, she says, means always looking up at people. Taking steps in the eLegs exoskeleton, she says, means she can look people straight in the eye. She can get real hugs, and maybe even go for hikes outdoors, one of her favorite activities.
Berkeley Bionics CEO Eythor Bender said the company wanted to create a low-profile, lightweight aid that moves quietly and with a natural gait and speed.
The eLegs robotic frame is controlled through standard crutches outfitted with sensors and a gesture-based human-machine interface. Move the right crutch forward, and the left leg takes a step, propelling the patient forward in smooth, natural-stepping motions.
eLegs grew out of work by Berkeley Bionics and Lockheed Martin to develop a bionic exoskeleton
called the Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC). Currently in production, HULC was developed for the military and designed to allow soldiers to safely carry up to 200 pounds over rough terrain.
CEO Bender said that for almost 500 years, the standard wheelchair has been the only option for paralyzed patients, and that eLegs is an alternative that will enhance independence and freedom of movement.
Designed to replace more bulky and expensive assisted walking devices currently in use in rehabilitation centers, users can put eLegs on over their clothes and shoes in a matter of minutes, and be walking independently with just a few hours of practice.
Patients need to be able to self-transfer from a wheelchair. They then put the eLegs system on with just a few velcro straps and the backpack shoulder harness.