By Lorrin Windahl.
Has technology had a detrimental impact on society? I think this is a highly contentious question but an important one. There is no denying that technology has driven social change. We no longer talk to strangers on the train or ask for directions in the street. Instead we are too busy with our heads down looking at a screen, absorbing new information at lightning speed. And there is no real need to converse anymore, Google can answer almost any question and is accessible anywhere at anytime. But, for all the negative impacts that one might feel the popularization of technological gadgetry has had, there are amazingly positive ones too. After all, the mainstreaming of technology has meant it has also evolved at breakneck speed. And these advances have then filtered down into less glamorous, more deserving areas on human existence. Areas that only serve a minority of our population but of which the impact on daily life is huge. Enter stage right, the ReWalk exoskeleton; a device that enables people who have suffered paraplegia (spinal cord injury resulting in impaired function of the lower extremities) to stand and, amazingly, walk again.
Ironically, after looking up Google rather than asking someone in the office, I can now accurately define the term exoskeleton as an outer shell that supports and protects an animal. In this case it refers to an artificial outer supporting structure. A structure that supports a person who is unable to move their legs as a result of damage to their spinal cord.
Developed by Amit Goffer, an Israeli inventor who also suffers from quadriplegia, the ReWalk is a wearable exoskeleton made up of motors at the hip and knee to enable the user to ‘walk’. The mode of the unit (stand, sit or walk) is set using a wrist mounted wireless remote, whilst ReWalkers control the movement of the device by changing their centre of gravity. A tilt forward initiates a step forward.
A major issue with the development of exoskeletons is the power supply; their size, type, use and capacity. The ReWalk comes with a Lithium ion battery and a lithium polymer auxiliary battery. According to ReWalk, the length of charge depends on the user but the heaviest user should get three hours use. It does however take a full eight hours to recharge the battery, with the intention that this would be performed over night.
Unfortunately not everyone with paraplegia is a suitable candidate. Users still need to be able to stand and have enough muscle definition to handle the controls. And even if the person fits this criteria, at AU$130,000 the device could still be unattainable. With only around 10,000 people in Australia experiencing spinal cord injury, and an even smaller number of these with paraplegia, it will not be high demand and an increase in volume that will start to reduce the cost. It is more likely to be the popularity of these technologies, in other forms, that will drive the price down and make the product more affordable to those that actually need it.
So perhaps the popularization of technology is having a positive effect after all.
All images courtesy of ReWalk