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eLegs let paraplegics walk again (photos)

Berkeley Bionics' eLegs robotic exoskeleton is giving paraplegics hope for new freedoms.

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James Martin
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eLegs

Berkeley Bionics today unveiled eLegs, a 45-pound bionic exoskeleton that's enabling paraplegics to get out of their wheelchairs to stand and walk.
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Amanda Boxtel

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.

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Walking across stage

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.
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eLegs

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.
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Introduced into rehabilitation clinics

The eLegs system will first be introduced into rehabilitation clinics in the United States, with units going on sale in late 2011.

Berkeley Bionics CEO Eythor Bender said the company is hoping to make the eLegs system available for around $50,000, about half the cost of current high-end wheelchairs.

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Regaining the movements of walking

Parapalegics demonstrating the use of eLegs at a press conference in San Francisco said they never thought they would experience walking movements again.

Boxtel said it feels incredible to once again walk with a bent knee, take a step from heel to toe, and place a foot flat on the ground.

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The base of eLegs

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.
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Lithium cobalt batteries

The lithium cobalt batteries fully charge overnight, and stay charged for more than six hours.
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Upper body strength needed

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.

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