[July 27, 2021: Rebecca Shavit]
Oscar Constanza, is a 16-year-old with a genetic neurological condition. He now has the ability to walk for the first time thanks to an innovative exoskeleton suit created by his father Jean-Louis Constanza.
“In the end it’s quite similar: instead of having the information going from the brain to the legs, it goes from the remote controller to the legs,” he said, before making his dinner and walking with it from the kitchen to the living room.
Strapped to his shoulders, chest, waist, knees and feet, the exoskeleton allows Oscar to walk across the room and turn around. Normally, for a human to walk, information travels from the brain to the legs. Using the exoskeleton suite, the remote controller sends instructions to the servos controlling the legs.
"Before, I needed someone to help me walk ... this makes me feel independent," said Oscar.
Jean-Louis Constanza is one of the co-founders and Chief Business and Clinical Officer at French company Wandercraft which manufacturers the suit.
Wandercraft's exoskeleton, an outer frame that supports but also simulates body movement, has been sold to dozens of hospitals in France, Luxembourg and the United States, for about 150,000 euros ($176,000) a piece, Constanza said.
Kevin Piette, exoskeleton pilot, poses next to a robot exoskeleton created by French company Wandercraft (CREDIT: REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier)
A lot of companies have tried to develop exoskeletons to help paraplegics walk, but models from Ekso Bionics, ReWalk and others require crutches, which heavily stress patients' shoulder muscles. That limits training and rehab sessions, as patients often need days to recover from muscle fatigue.
Being able to stand and walk without the discomfort of crutches would not only provide a huge psychological boost but also help reduce or eliminate many of those symptoms. "Our friends in wheelchairs told us, 'OK, if there was a device that would enable us to be able to walk again, there is no price that I wouldn't pay,'" said Wandercraft’s Managing Director Matthieu Masselin.
Wandercraft's exoskeleton is not yet commercially available as a consumer version of the suit would need to be much lighter, Wandercraft engineers said. But perhaps very soon.
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