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Medicine Robotics Hardware Technology

Instead of a Wheel Chair, How About an Exoskeleton? 232

Posted by timothy
from the yes-please dept.
New submitter the_newsbeagle writes "This year, Ekso Bionics will roll out its most sophisticated exoskeleton ever. The company's robotic walking suit, called the Ekso, allows paraplegics to get back on their feet and walk on their own. The first commercial model will be sold to rehab hospitals for on-site physical therapy, but the company plans to have a model ready for at-home physical therapy by the end of 2012. In a few years, they plan to sell an Ekso that a paraplegic person can wear to the post office, to work, etc."
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Instead of a Wheel Chair, How About an Exoskeleton?

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  • Awesome, but.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @12:22PM (#38573728)

    I still consider it a transitionary solution, useful, but only until we can grow organs and nerve tissue and basically fix people like we fix machinery :)

    • Re:Awesome, but.. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @12:40PM (#38574054) Homepage

      I still consider it a transitionary solution, useful, but only until we can grow organs and nerve tissue and basically fix people like we fix machinery :)

      It's interesting you think that, as it's rather the opposite of the trend of science-fiction and posthumanist fantasizing.

      For the former, Larry Niven's Known Space universe (such as the tales in Flatlander [amazon.com] ) had organ transplantation as a widely implemented medical solution (amusingly leading to the death penalty for even minor crimes), but eventually ended by alloplasty, "gadgets instead of organs".

      For the latter, Ray Kurzweil and his fans hope that we'll be able to upload our brains into computers any day now. And that's understandable, since a civilization that has technology advanced enough to produce new biological parts in vitro may be on the cusp of transcending biology entirely.

      • Re:Awesome, but.. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hedwards (940851) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @12:49PM (#38574154)

        I personally wouldn't upload my brain into a computer for the same reason that I'd never agree to use a Star Trek style transporter if one is ever invented. Both are essentially a method of suicide that gets covered up by a replacement that appears to be the original.

        • by tmosley (996283)
          You need to have your brain coexist with the new one for some amount of time so your consciousness transfers to the new one seamlessly. Communication between the two parts is VITAL, for the very reason you stated. With a transfer to a computer, it would be much easier than with a transporter, as it could be done by steps in a highly controlled manner.
          • Re:Awesome, but.. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Khazunga (176423) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @01:04PM (#38574368)

            Ok, let's assume you connect, allow consciousness to transfer, then sever the connection but *don't* destroy the biological part. Who am I? I'd wager I'd still be the biological one, albeit the sillicon part may be a perfect copy. Now, kill the biological part. I'm dead. Thanks, but no, thanks. Not until we pinpoint conscience beyond "I think therefore I am".

            • by timeOday (582209)

              Ok, let's assume you connect, allow consciousness to transfer, then sever the connection but *don't* destroy the biological part. Who am I? I'd wager I'd still be the biological one, albeit the sillicon part may be a perfect copy.

              No, the correct answer is, both the biological you and the silicon you are absolutely convinced that they are the real one, and both perceive continuity starting from childhood, and both beg to be preserved even if at the expense of the other.

            • Ok, let's assume you connect, allow consciousness to transfer, then sever the connection but *don't* destroy the biological part. Who am I? I'd wager I'd still be the biological one, albeit the sillicon part may be a perfect copy. Now, kill the biological part. I'm dead. Thanks, but no, thanks. Not until we pinpoint conscience beyond "I think therefore I am".

              I think differently. I think both the biological and silicon versions are you. There's no reason to pick one over the other. If you allow the biological one to wake up and make new memories, now the two versions have had different experiences and are two different people, and killing the biological one is murder. If you do it before there's been a chance for this to happen, it doesn't matter, the copy is identical.

            • Re:Awesome, but.. (Score:5, Interesting)

              by Miamicanes (730264) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @04:16PM (#38577122)

              I've always thought something like that would make an awesome plot for a Sci-Fi movie -- people use transporters to go everywhere, multiple times per day, but the reality is that you end up with two conscious copies of the same person, and the old one gets automatically destroyed once the copy and replication is complete. The new copy steps out at the other end feeling like the teleportation worked flawlessly, and the old person (itself a multi-Nth copy of the person who was born years earlier) stands in the booth wondering why it's not working, until he gets killed and vaporized (with people who've seen the process believing it's part of the teleportation process, instead of a purely destructive clean-up act, and very few genuinely understanding what's really going on... because nobody would ever step into such a booth knowing that they themselves were going to effectively die, even if their "consciousness" lived on after replication elsewhere).

              Now, imagine a teleporter whose "destructor" system fails after working well enough to injure (instead of kill) someone who just teleported, and leaves him convinced that terrorists are systematically murdering people -- and has no idea that it's now teleportation machines are *intended* to work, and eventually manages to teleport home from work after a visit to the hospital, only to run into himself#2.n, who just uneventfully teleported home from work after a perfectly normal day that included about a half-dozen teleportations that worked "without incident".

              Now, stir in some extra details to make it a real story... engineers who stumbled on the truth while trying to reverse-engineer the process for a start-up competitor (who were summarily committed to a mental institution, because at that point, teleporters had been used by everyone multiple times per day since birth, and the whole *idea* that teleportation == death was viewed as ludicrous... were hospitalized, then truly went insane after being forcibly teleported multiple times per day at the mental hospital (knowing each time what was really happening to them). Add a legal system completely unprepared to deal with both the consequences of having two copies of the same person, and a society where all other forms of transportation had effectively ceased to exist and teleportation was literally the only way to travel more than a few thousand feet (even elevators were replaced by teleporters by that time, and stairs were increasingly uncommon).

              Fun stuff ;-)

              • by timeOday (582209)
                You should watch The Prestige. (Although I may have just spoiled it by recommending it in this context).
          • by gorzek (647352)

            The problem is that the continuity of existence you perceive as "you" will end the moment your original body is destroyed. The new body and mind will be identical to the original in every way--except that the conscious existence of the original is gone.

            Everyone else will see that person as you, but from your own perspective, you're dead.

            • by hedwards (940851)

              Precisely what I was getting at. Personally I don't really care about other people when it comes to things like this. I might consider donating my consciousness to a robot to further my works, but a transfer is definitely not something that I would ever consider. Death is ultimately inevitable and even in the case of a transfer the essential bits of me would still be dead.

        • by Khazunga (176423)
          I'm not that much of a trekkie to know the workings of the transporter. However, if it'd somehow physically move all my atoms to another place, in the same configuration, I'd go in. If it copies and reproduces, then destroys the original, I concur with you. Thanks but no thanks.
        • I believe I read somewhere that the transporters in the Star Trek shows actually transferred the original matter of your body from one point to another, in the form of energy, so there is no replacement. In theory, at least, it's exactly the same person that steps out one the other side, not a clone, and the connection to the "mind" or "soul" or "sense of self", or whatever you want to call it, remains unbroken. The original models provoked riots for exactly the reason you stated, once people understood how

        • Re:Awesome, but.. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by timeOday (582209) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @01:11PM (#38574496)
          98% of the atoms on your body are replaced ever year [wordpress.com], whether or not you take a ride in a transporter. So, "you" are not a certain set of particles, but rather a self-propagating pattern.
          • by hedwards (940851)

            That's a bit like suggesting that because I've replaced the individual parts in my car that I no longer have the same car and that it's exactly the same as if I were to just buy a new car. I don't personally agree with that notion, at some point you do have to agree that replacing enough stuff quickly enough and you no longer have the original to work with.

            • by grumbel (592662)

              That's a bit like suggesting that because I've replaced the individual parts in my car that I no longer have the same car and that it's exactly the same as if I were to just buy a new car.

              It is, at least for the car. It only makes a difference to you because you don't lose continuity when you replace your car piece by piece instead of all at once, as you are always left with something that reminds you of your old car. By the time the last part of your old car gets replaced, you have gotten used enough to the new parts to consider them "your car". However for the car it makes no difference, your old car is on the scrapyard and the thing you are driving is all new.

            • Re:Awesome, but.. (Score:5, Informative)

              by BattleApple (956701) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @02:46PM (#38575728)
              it's the Ship of Theseus paradox [wikipedia.org]
            • The law would probably agree that it was the same car. That said, this seems relevant triggers broom [youtube.com]
          • I believe what you are looking for is the Ship of Theseus Paradox [wikipedia.org]. For those who are unaware of it it asks the question of when does something stop being the original when pieces have been replaced. In essence we are all Ships of Theseus.
          • by artor3 (1344997)

            But they're not replaced all at once, which is an important difference. If our conscious selves are indeed complex patterns in our brains, then those patterns can survive having parts changed out, a few molecules at a time. But if you destroy the brain altogether, the pattern stops. The fact that an identical copy of the pattern was created ahead of time makes no difference. Your pattern has ended.

            For an analogy, if I'm running a program on my computer, the states of various nodes in the CPU are constan

        • by Bucky24 (1943328)
          I'm not an expert, but I believe the Star Trek transporters don't recreate the molecules. They pull the originals through subspace and re-create the bonds between them. How else could they transport DOWN to a surface that has no receiving platform (and no way to "create" a new body, as you seem to imply)? Then again that whole concept is full of holes in the star trek universe..
          • I always considered it strange that they rarely if ever thought to use the transporter as an offensive weapon since the uses are near endless.
            Transport large amounts of stuff into the path of oncoming torpedoes.
            Shoot large heavy cannon balls into the transporter and have them re materialize at speed in front of a boarding party of borg.
            Even easier, large quantities of that green gas stuff from first contact that dissolves organic matter.
            Use the transporter in combination with the replicator to rapidly rebu
        • i didn't know sheldon read slashdot!

        • You're going to die anyway: uploading your brain or teleporting could be better than the alternative. Kirk is crying pitifully for you to come and help him--how will you live with yourself if you refuse?!
        • by Speare (84249)

          I teleported home one night/ With Ron and Sid and Meg./ Ron stole Meggie's heart away/ And I got Sidney's leg.

          Take me apart, take me apart, what a way to roam./ But if you have to take me apart to get me there, I'd rather stay at home.

          --Douglas Adams

        • I personally wouldn't upload my brain into a computer for the same reason that I'd never agree to use a Star Trek style transporter if one is ever invented. Both are essentially a method of suicide that gets covered up by a replacement that appears to be the original.

          If the replacement copy can be considered exact, what's the problem with that? The original who committed suicide isn't going to be alive to regret the decision and the replacement thinks he's the original, so he's happy. That's functionally equivalent to the original living through the transport / upload.

          Where do you draw the line? Suppose our medical technology is so advanced we can essentially be treated like machines. Your heart starts to fail, you get a mechanical one. Are you still you? Now your

      • I'd think it is a new step in posthumanist fantasies rather than a reversal. This science fiction (specifically Niven's "Flatlander" stories published 1975) predates most of the advances of biotechnology, including the human genome project (1984-2003) and successful genetic engineering (first breakthrough in 1973). Just as Asimov's Multivac was a city-spanning vacuum-tube based supercomputer with a teletype interface because he couldn't conceive of nanoscopic transistors and LCDs, science fiction authors ha

      • David Brin's Kiln People was an excellent entry into the "copying people" genre.

      • by expatriot (903070)

        I have always been puzzled by what the uploading of consciousness could mean. Uploading knowledge sure, but what could it mean to upload our individual sense of being ourselves? Even something that thinks just like me is not me.

    • Well there is always the transitional solution.

      Robotic Assist devices like this give us promise now (or in the near future) regrowing organs and limbs may take far longer time, or not at all. If you are injured you might as well get the assist now then wait around hoping for a full cure.
      • by glueball (232492)

        Short sighted thinking and way to make the injured feel second class.

        What if I am an able bodied person and I want these improvements because they are better than my original equipment? What if, because of these exoskeletons, we may one day say "wow, those paraplegics are sooooo lucky because they get the automatic leg upgrade"

        I work with a lot of injured and the last thing they need is to feel like they are waiting for yet another technology like regrowing organs.

        The exoskeleton performance amplifier *is*

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      So we call Car Talk for help on this stuff?
      "My husband makes this strange sound when starting up."

    • What I have never been able to understand is why all disability aids seem to have been designed purposely too look ugly. My dad needs a mobility scooter for other reasons, he has emphysema so he can't go anywhere without basically starving himself of oxygen. He spends most of his spare time now with a welder and a grinder tricking out his personalised electric scooter. This is a step in the right direction (pardon the pun) but it seems to add insult to injury to make people who have suffered the loss of mob

  • Meh... (Score:5, Funny)

    by taiwanjohn (103839) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @12:22PM (#38573732)

    Call me when you have a flying exoskeleton.

    • Re:Meh... (Score:5, Informative)

      by taiwanjohn (103839) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @12:36PM (#38573972)

      After taking the time to actually watch the video, I'm impressed (and not just by the cute chick). I'm also surprised that the current model still requires remote-control input from the therapist, though they say that will be sorted out in the next version. In the end, it's all about the user experience, and this girl seems to be pretty enthusiastic about it. Kudos!

    • by forkfail (228161)

      I'd settle for dual fusion cannons and plasteel armor.

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @12:24PM (#38573764)

    Exoskeletons and robotic limbs are kind of like self-driving cars. Every few years, you see a news report on supposed progress made. Some prototype is demonstrated. And nothing ever comes of it.

    So we're always hearing about some great new advancement for paraplegics or amputees and yet every time you walk into a hospital, they're still using the same basic wheelchairs, hooks, and simple artificial limbs they've been using for decades (with a few advancements like electric wheelchairs and improved gripping on the hooks).

    • by Nadaka (224565) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @12:35PM (#38573948)

      Luxury vehicles have had optional fully automatic parallel parking for a couple years now.

      Next year some production models of mid range vehicles have optional automated lane drift correction.

      We also have cruise control systems that automatically brake when you approach slower traffic.

      So if exoskeletons are like self driving cars, then expect them to rapidly progress over the next decade and see some comercial deployment, but don't expect anything as bad ass as Starship Troopers power armor.

      • Well, since cars have been around for a century, I wouldn't expect the explosion in development you're predicting.

    • Exoskeletons and robotic limbs are kind of like self-driving cars. Every few years, you see a news report on supposed progress made. Some prototype is demonstrated. And nothing ever comes of it.

      So we're always hearing about some great new advancement for paraplegics or amputees and yet every time you walk into a hospital, they're still using the same basic wheelchairs, hooks, and simple artificial limbs they've been using for decades (with a few advancements like electric wheelchairs and improved gripping on the hooks).

      "They can fix a spine. But not on vet benefits, not in this economy."

    • by thomasw_lrd (1203850) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @12:47PM (#38574136)

      Oblig XKCD

      http://xkcd.com/678/ [xkcd.com]

    • by grumbel (592662)

      Exoskeletons and robotic limbs are kind of like self-driving cars. Every few years, you see a news report on supposed progress made. Some prototype is demonstrated.

      20 something years VW was demoning a self parking car prototype, then nothing every came of that... till a little while ago when automatic parking starting becoming a feature seen in regular everyday cars. Also ePaper, years and years of prototype and tech demo and nothing usable of even buyable, then Kindle happened. New technology simply takes a while to get from first prototype to mass market and when you sit at the sidelines reading news reports about it all the time, it might seem like there isn't any

  • by bigattichouse (527527) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @12:24PM (#38573766) Homepage

    What's a post office?

    • by virgnarus (1949790) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @12:33PM (#38573910)
      Hobby shop for stamp collectors.
    • It's a place similar to the Monty Python sketch where people go for abuse or an argument. "Don't give me that, you snotty-faced heap of parrot droppings!"
    • by forkfail (228161)

      It's one of those antiquated things from the time when people had this archaic idea that not quite everything needed to be monetized directly; that there were certain things that a nation should provide as services that would not show a direct and immediate profit from, but which would ensure long term freedom and prosperity.

      However, the role of the post office changed from that of conveyor of communication between individuals into an entity that was expected to make money serving corporate interests by del

  • Ob (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hognoxious (631665) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @12:24PM (#38573776) Homepage Journal

    I have a class two rating.

  • I, for one, (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Welcome our new exo-skeleton outfitted Stephen Hawking overlord.

  • I wouldn't want to tangle with someone with a powered suit of armor.

    Would you?

    • by Quirkz (1206400)
      Depends ... am I an alien queen on a space ship near the airlock, or on a nice planet somewhere?
  • previous stories (Score:5, Informative)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdotNO@SPAMhackish.org> on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @12:26PM (#38573808)

    Fwiw, previous coverage on Slashdot of related products:

    Human Exoskeletons Getting Closer [slashdot.org] (March 2009)

    Elder-Assist Robotic Suits, From the Real Cyberdyne [slashdot.org] (October 2009)

    eLEGS Exoskeleton Allows Paraplegics To Walk [slashdot.org] (October 2010)

  • by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @12:28PM (#38573850) Homepage Journal

    Get away from her, you bitch!
  • ...when I see a company developing robotic exoskeletons for humans run by a CEO named Bender. This development could cover both "embrace" and "extend". I think we all know what comes next.

  • by Leif_Bloomquist (311286) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @12:50PM (#38574178) Homepage

    Stephen Hawking did this upgrade back in 1997 ;-)

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/stephen-hawking-builds-robotic-exoskeleton,1629/ [theonion.com]

  • by PPH (736903) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 @01:08PM (#38574434)

    ... Dean Kamen's iBot [wikipedia.org] wheelchair? Not quite as cool as an exoskeleton. But much more maneuverable than a standard wheelchair. And it leave your hands free.

    Sadly, it appears to have been discontinued. But it was far cheaper than $100K, so if J&J couldn't make a go of the cheaper technology, what are the chances of this contraption ever seeing a market?

  • That'd be great except for a few minor details: Wheelchairs are easier to maintain (fewer moving parts, much larger network of parts and support providers), wheelchairs are easier to transport (they fold up nicely and fit easily in the backseat of a car), they are easy to use (no instruction required, it's very self explanatory), they don't require power (granted, some do, but the average wheelchair is "self powered"), and - here's the kicker - much much much cheaper (yes, i know that theyre very expensive
    • by b0bby (201198)

      From the article/video, they're using this generation as a rehab tool, letting the user "walk" for an hour or so with a therapist walking behind them controlling the steps. It's not a wheelchair replacement, at least not yet. If someone works out with this regularly, then when the next generation comes along they may be able to use it by themselves.

  • I watched the video, and the only thing I could think of was, "This thing is quite rudimentary." It's not even close to seeing the light of day - certainly not by the end of 2012. Don't get me wrong, it's a step in the right direction (pun intended), but not ready for market.
  • There are simply dozens of ways to address the frailty of the human body and the injuries we acquire as a function of living in a modern society filled with great big moving metal objects. The machines that convey us, so exceed the designs of being human its almost mind numbing. The fastest vehicles travel faster than Mach 20. The human body is designed to travel at distance at around at 5-10 mph and in short sprints at around 15 mph. You fall or bang into something going that fast and you will probably spr

  • Then we can get rid of almost all that damned handicapped parking.

    And if someone does take the remaining space so the poor sod who can't use an exoskeleton can't use it, another guy with an exoskeleton can just pick up the car and move it out of the way.

If a 6600 used paper tape instead of core memory, it would use up tape at about 30 miles/second. -- Grishman, Assembly Language Programming

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