WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- A French engineer built an exoskeleton, a sort of robotic suit, for his 16-year-old son to help him walk.
- The teen has a genetic neurological condition that makes it difficult for him to walk without support.
- The suit is fastened to the teen’s shoulders, chest, waist, knees and feet and is activated with the command “Robot, stand up”.
Jean-Louis Constanza, an engineer in France built an exoskeleton — a sort of robotic suit — to help his 16-year-old wheelchair-bound son walk. Oscar Constanza has a genetic neurological condition that makes it impossible to walk without assistance.
The teen told news agency Reuters that the device has made him independent. “Before, I needed someone to help me walk … this makes me feel independent.”
According to Reuters, the device is fastened to Oscar’s shoulders, chest, waist, knees and feet and is activated by the voice command “Robot, stand up”. Once he gives the order, slowly but surely a large frame strapped to his body lifts him up and he starts walking.
“Before, I needed someone to help me walk … this makes me feel independent,” said Oscar.
“One day Oscar said to me: ‘dad, you’re a robotic engineer, why don’t you make a robot that would allow us to walk?'” his father recalls, speaking at the company Wandercraft’s headquarters in Paris.
“Ten years from now, there will be no, or far fewer, wheelchairs,” he said.
Other companies across the world are also manufacturing exoskeletons, competing to make them as light and usable as possible. Some are focused on helping disabled people walk, others on a series of applications, including making standing less tiring for factory workers.
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.
It cannot yet be bought by private individuals for everyday use – that is the next stage the company is working on. A personal skeleton would need to be much lighter, Wandercraft engineers said.
Just outside Paris, 33-year-old Kevin Piette, who lost the ability to walk in a bike accident 10 years ago, tries one on, walking around his flat, remote controller in hand.
“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.