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Prosthetics and Metal Exoskeletons Change Physical Therapy and Human Strength

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You might be a fan of Almost Human. If you are, they you'd know that Karl Urban's character, Det. John Kennex, has a prosthetic leg that is programmed to be in sync with his nerve endings and mental controls. You might also think that we aren't anywhere close to creating such technology. Well, sir or madam, you thought wrong. So, so wrong.

There’s not just one news article about a revolutionary prosthetic, but several. Firstly, an exoskeleton is helping a snowmobile enthusiast walk again. The exoskeleton called the Ekso, created by the California-based company Ekso Bionics, is helping snowmobile lover Paul Thacker learn to walk again after being paralyzed in a 2010 training accident. Thacker wore the skeleton at CES 2014 to promote the technology. “It’s basically a wearable robot,” he said. The exoskeleton, states The Verge, is controlled through buttons on Thacker’s crutches, takes an hour to charge and provides three hours of battery life for standing and walking.

While the Ekso is more for practical physical therapy use, Panasonic’s new exoskeleton is more like something out of Aliens. Panasonic revealed their “Powered Suit” on January 2. The suit, according to japanCRUSH, was developed by a Panasonic subsidiary, Activelink, and will greatly enhance human strength, allowing for the wearers to lift objects as heavy as 100kg. The power comes from a lithium ion battery, the same type of battery used in our smart phones and computers. A system for mass production will be put in place this year for sales of the suit; Panasonic is planning on selling the suit through major companies as well as allow people to rent the suit through a leasing company.

Socks are also being re-engineered to help those with walking difficulties, thanks to new technology created by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. Gizmodo states that the researchers have created bio-robotic socks – yes, socks - that will help those who have difficulty walking. The socks were created in cahoots with researchers at USC, Harvard, MIT and a company called BioSensics. The socks are made from soft plastics and other comfortable materials to better reproduce the natural motions of a foot and ankle. To help aid rehabilitation, pneumatic artificial muscles help replicate the natural motions of the leg.

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The real science fiction stuff comes in with technology coming from DARPA, the military research branch of the Department of Defense. DARPA has created a robotic arm (complete with a hand) that is controlled by the wearer’s thoughts. The arm, which weighs as much as a humans, is planning to help veterans who come back home with upper limb loss. Fox News states that the arm, which was built in five years, can play the piano, pick up a cup and throw a ball.

The future is here, people! What do you think about these innovative prosthetics and exoskeletons? Give you opinions below.


Image: Carnegie Mellon, Ekso Bionics™

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