Topics: Technology & Advancements, Research, Recovery & Rehabilitation

Robotic Exoskeleton Turns Paralyzed Man into a 'Real Life Iron Man'



When a spinal cord injury occurs, it can often mean an entirely new way of life for the patient suffering from such a debilitating condition as well as those loved ones in his or her life. Time and again, we’ve heard stories of people struggling to recover both physically and financially after such an incident. After all, the nerve damage left in the wake of a severe spinal cord injury can often lead to any one of many forms of paralysis and devastating loss of function.

Medical bills alone cost an average of $198,000 for the first year following an incident, and treatment and rehabilitation still has quite a long way to go. Thankfully, some new technology proves that true progress is on the way. Take the development of a new robotic exoskeleton, for instance.

Thanks to the incredible advances made possible by the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC), Mark Daniel -- who is paralyzed from the waist down, following a serious spinal cord injury -- was able to participate in the first-ever Cybathlon in fall 2016, despite his injury.

The international obstacle course is specifically designed for powered exoskeletons operated by disabled individuals battling various stages of paralysis, with companies and universities vying to pit their technology against each other. IHMC Robotics has long been hard at work on such a project, and Daniel was fortunate enough to be selected to pilot the device throughout the six tasks that comprise the powered exoskeleton race.

For nearly a decade, Daniel has been bound to a wheelchair, and in 2010, he assisted IHMC in the development of the organization’s first powered exoskeleton, a role he has since fulfilled during the evaluation and testing phases. Despite the life-altering incident that cost him his legs, Daniel is able to fully control the IHMC exoskeleton, allowing him to bend and flex his legs normally.

Moreover, the exoskeleton itself -- which blends man and machine in a way similar to popular Marvel Comics superhero Iron Man -- is fitted with a tether for fall protection and the ability to log controller data during the competition.

The real feat when it comes to technology like the IHMC exoskeleton is coordination. Because Daniel and others like him have lost a key part of their mobility when their injuries occured, the exoskeleton pilots need ample practice to be able to guide the suit to move precisely in the way intended.

Balance across various types of terrain is essential to the normal function of these exoskeletons -- and their long-term viability as an option for spinal cord injury patients -- and both remain integral to the future success of IHMC. As the project continues to develop, the speed and agility involved in exoskeletons like Daniel’s will only improve, paving the way for bigger things to come.

While a robotic exoskeleton may not be a feasible solution for every patient suffering from a spinal cord injury, the development of such an astounding technology is a testament to the amount of research being put into finding creative ways to address severe nerve damage and the medical breakthroughs that are continuously coming to fruition as a result.

As time goes by, the chances are growing ever stronger that future spinal cord patients will have easy access to some radical treatment options. As it stands, a personal injury attorney can make a tremendous difference in seeking relief for the pain that mounting medical bills can cause. If you or someone you know is facing a recent spinal cord injury, don’t wait to take action, as time is a key factor in the success rate of rehabilitation.

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Robert Yaniz Jr.

Written by Robert Yaniz Jr.

Robert Yaniz Jr. has been a professional writer for more than a decade, including print and online publishing. His experience includes writing various materials for the marketing communications department of a global law firm.

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