The wheel may be one of mankind’s greatest inventions, but it’s an unfortunate fact of life for the wheelchair-bound that much of the modern world is built for the upright – from deli counter-tops and store shelves to stairs and escalators. When Israeli entrepreneur Amit Goffer was left paralyzed after a car accident in 1997 he set about creating “robotic trousers” to replace a wheelchair. The fruits of his labor are now set to help others with his ReWalk robotic exoskelton set to go on sale from the start of 2011.

Like the REX robotic exoskeleton, ReWalk is a wearable, motorized robotic device that is worn outside the clothing. The motorized legs, which are held in place by leg braces and a harness worn around the waist and shoulders, are powered by a rechargeable battery providing 3.5 hours of use located in a backpack along with a computer. However, unlike the REX exoskeleton which is controlled by a joystick, the ReWalk uses motion sensors to detect the wearer’s movements and translate them into movement of the units’ motorized joints, similar to the eLEGS exoskeleton developed at UC Berkeley.

Unlike the robotic exoskeletons being developed mainly for military use, such as Lockheed Martin’s HULC and Raytheon’s XOS robotic exoskeletons, which are designed to amplify the wearer’s movements giving them increased strength, speed and endurance, ReWalk is controlled by detecting the subtle movements in the user’s center of gravity and upper-body movements.

For this reason the user needs crutches to assist with their balance when using ReWalk, which means it is only suitable for those with movement in their hands and shoulders. Unfortunately this means Goffer, who is a quadriplegic, isn’t able to use his creation. However, Argo Medical Technologies – the company he founded to commercialize the device – is working on a version suitable for quadriplegics.

The ReWalk weighs 15 kg (33 lbs.) and is designed to serve as a physical training device for those undergoing rehabilitation. By maintaining users upright on a daily basis it also helps alleviate many of the health-related problems associated with long-tern wheelchair use such as urinary, respiratory, cardiovascular and digestive problems.

The ReWalk has been undergoing clinical trials in Israel and the U.S. for several years and Argo Medical Technologies now plans to start selling the device to rehabilitation centers around the world from January 2011 for a cost of around US$100,000.

Via Daily Mail