- The Washington Times - Monday, February 1, 2016

At about the same cost of a Cadillac, a robotics company from California said a new exoskeleton unveiled on Monday is making it possible for paraplegics and others with mobility disorders to regain their ability to walk.

“It feels like you’re actually walking,” former BMX dirt bike rider Steven Sanchez told Fast Company this week. Eleven years after becoming mostly paralyzed as the result of a sports injury, Mr. Sanchez is among the biggest proponents of the new Phoenix exoskeleton introduced this week by suitX, a spin-off started out of the Human Engineering and Robotics Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley by Dr. Homayoon Kazeroon in 2013.

SuitX is hardly the only one manufacturing and marketing exoskeletons — ReWalk, a competing commercial bionic walking assistance system, was used by British runner Claire Lomas to compete the 2012 London Marathon in 17 days. At a fraction of the cost of the competition, however, suitX could make the technology within reach for more people with mobility issues than ever when the Phoenix starts shipping next month for $40,000, or nearly half the price of similar products.

“We started suitX out of our passion to develop low-cost consumer bionic products to improve the quality of life for people around the world,” Dr. Kazerooni said in a statement. Notwithstanding design issues, human machine interface problems and other dilemmas that came to light during the course of development, his company has managed to make a product that relies more on small, state-of-the-art technology than bulky robotics, cutting costs significantly and putting suitX on the way towards it goal of helping children affected by neurological conditions like cerebral palsy and spina bifida.

“The team has continuously innovated low-cost exoskeleton systems that eventually allowed a paraplegic student to walk the podium for his graduation,” he added. Eventually, suitX hopes the technology will be small enough to help children during the brief time in development when they largely perfect their walking skills.

Totaling around 28 pounds, the current Phoenix consists of a modules made for a person’s hips, knees and feet, each of which can be independently removed and adjusted to conform to a individual’s exact size. A back-mounted battery pack provides power for up to eight hours to a series of small motors attached to otherwise standard orthotics that the wearer controls with with buttons. At its best, the Phoenix can help move an otherwise incapacitated person at a speed of 1.1 miles an hour, suitX said.

“It’s really not much about the power, it’s about cleverness,” Dr. Kazeroon told Fast Co. “We’ve designed this machine with minimal hardware that just allows for walking and nothing else.”

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