Rewalk robotics is building a “soft exoskeleton” to rehabilitate stroke patients

The Boston-based company that was first to provide robotic legs to paralyzed veterans in the U.S., Rewalk Robotics, has a new product in development. The device is a “soft exoskeleton,” designed to help people who have lower limb disability but who have not severed their spinal cord or otherwise become paraplegic.

According to Rewalk CEO Larry Jasinski, “Many people who have had a stroke can stand up but cannot lift their feet well or cannot put their legs down or propel the leg on their own to walk. If you could help them move their legs, but not have to put a big structure around them, it would be a very attractive option.”

Rewalk Robotics Yole

The new product will help Rewalk broaden its market, addressing patients recovering from a stroke, or dealing with everything from the effects of old age to diseases that impair their mobility like MS and Parkinson’s disease. The soft exoskeleton could be utilized by these patients, either long-term or as part of a rehab process.

Its main elements are: a belt and fanny pack with motors and a computer within, cables that extend down the legs, knee braces to keep them in place and sensor-laden footplates that can fit into a sneaker or other soft shoe.

The waist belt weighs about eight pounds and the cables, braces and footplates add about two more pounds to the total weight, at this point. Rewalk acquired the initial technology design from the Wyss Institute at Harvard, which had begun developing a “biologically inspired smart suit,” the Medexo, with funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) back in 2014. DARPA has long had an interest in technology that can be applied to help soldiers or medics walk farther, or for longer, and carry more weight in the field.

Rewalk will begin clinical studies of its soft exoskeletons in the back half of 2017. The company seeks to make the device available in 2018, pending FDA approvals. The soft exoskeleton will initially have power sufficient to move the legs, or be constantly walking, for two hours at a stretch.