California engineering firm gets paralyzed woman walking again

California engineering firm gets paralyzed woman walking again

Spinal cord injuries are among the most devastating and life-changing injuries a person can sustain. They happen in an instant - a car accident, a bad football tackle, a fall on a wet floor - and suddenly one's world is permanently altered. Often, the injury isn't even the victim's fault but the result of the negligence of another person. It's a situation that many have difficulty accepting and adapting to.

Unfortunately, medical bills often come hand-in-hand with the spinal cord injury. Add to this the costs of therapy, the value of lost wages and the difficulties in maintaining one's career after the accident, and the financial damage caused by the injury can be substantial.

Despite all this hardship, many people suffering from paralysis never give up hope that they will someday walk again. And thanks to a California company, that dream has come true for one woman.

The woman was paralyzed from the waist down after a skiing accident 21 years ago. Although she can no longer use her legs, she still undertook therapy to keep them strong, in the hopes that someday the technology would exist that would allow her to walk. Then, in 2010, she got a call from engineering firm called Berkeley Bionics asking her to test out a new form of bionic legs.

The 50-pound exoskeleton is designed to copy the natural gait of human beings. While wearing the device, the woman found she was able to walk - slowly, and with difficulty, but definitely walking.

The device works by reading the movement of the user's hips. When the user shifts his or her right hip forward, the device senses the motion and takes a step with the right foot. The device has learning capabilities that allow it to adapt to each specific user's motions. Balance is assured with a walking stick in each hand.

Unfortunately, the device does have some limitations. It requires the assistance of a therapist to use it safely, and it requires a fair amount of training and effort to use. Even so, for the woman who hasn't been able to walk in 21 years, it's a dream come true.

Scientific American, "Paralyzed Woman Walks Again, with the Aid of a Robot" Ingrid Wickelgren, Sep. 24, 2013


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