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Medicine Robotics Technology

Cheap At $40,000: Phoenix Exoskeleton Gives Paraplegics Legs to Walk With 37

Fast Company highlights the cheap-for-the-price Phoenix exoskeleton, created by University of California Berkeley professor (and Berkeley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory director) Homayoon Kazerooni and a team of his former grad students at SuitX, a company Kazerooni founded in 2013. Set to sell for $40,000 when it goes on sale next month, the Phoenix sounds expensive -- except compared to the alternatives. For paraplegic patients, there are a handful of other powered exoskeletons, but they cost much more, and are engineered for more than the modest goals of the Phoenix, which allows only one thing: slow walking on level ground. That limited objective means that the rig is light (27 pounds), and relatively unobtrusive. Kazerooni says that he'd like the price to go down much further, too, noting that all the technology in a modern motorcyle can be had for the quarter of the price. A slice: [The] only driving motors in Phoenix are at the hip joints. When the user hits a forward button on their crutches, their left hip swings forward. At this moment, the onboard computer signals the knee to become loose, flex, and clear the ground. As the foot hits, the knee joint stiffens again to support the leg. This computer-choreographed process repeats for the right leg. As it happens, this hinged knee joint has another benefit. If the wearer hits something midstep, like a rock or a curb, a powered knee would blindly drive the leg forward anyway, likely leading to a fall. The hinge naturally absorbs such resistance and allows the wearer a chance to compensate.
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Cheap At $40,000: Phoenix Exoskeleton Gives Paraplegics Legs to Walk With

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  • Give it time (Score:3, Interesting)

    by theprophetof sarcasm ( 4443937 ) on Thursday February 04, 2016 @08:10AM (#51437867)
    Just a few more years and they will have Olympic events and be running faster than non engineered humans!
    • by MFriis ( 4445501 )
      We have actually been close for quite some time. Oscar Pistorius was at 21,30s @ 200 meters. WR is 19.19s His time is better than that of the women in the non paraolympics.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Oscar Pistorius is a long, long way off being a paraplegic. There's no comparison between a paraplegic wearing a powered exoskeleton, which is what we're talking about here, and an amputee that runs under his own muscle power on passive prostheses.

    • Transhumanism is inevitable. Shortly after prosthetic performance exceeds human performance early adopters and those willing to push boundaries will opt-in to the technology. Acceptance is then just a few short generations away, all the while the state-of-the-art will continue to improve.

      Can you imagine a future baseball league with a F1 style technology homologation committee to normalize the performance of the athletes' augmentations? I can't wait! Unfortunately I probably won't live another 80-130 ye

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Thursday February 04, 2016 @09:14AM (#51438075) Journal
    Normally, the cost would continue to come down as more of these are manufactured, and in some cases when the R & D costs are recouped. ($100 VCR movie.)

    In this instance, it matters how large the target market is... [fscip.org] hmmm, larger than I would've guessed.

    This 3D printing thing is really paying off. I hope to never need this technology's services, but it is really cool that there are folks working to improve it.

    • by MFriis ( 4445501 )
      The price doesn't seem overly high compared to similiar products. A powered wheelchair easily costs between 6000$ and 10.000$. I reckon the competitiveness of that market is much greater than that of the exoskeleton. With a few competitors and some production facilities i can see this competing with wheelchairs within a few years.
    • Give it time, our socialist government will subsidize it to make it more cost effective. Or Obama care with cover the difference.
    • The prime marked for this isn't for cripples, its for patents that will be useful down the line when exoskeletons mature a bit more. That and the fact it allows developed prototypes to be sold, and it will most likely be subsidized once it gets out of testing phase.

      Even then, its roughly in the price segment where these devices will end up: They will cost the same as good fresh cars. 2nd gen of these might go down to 30.000, but they won't be cheap because they are rather complicated technology.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Thursday February 04, 2016 @10:36AM (#51438567) Homepage Journal

      Normally, the cost would continue to come down as more of these are manufactured, and in some cases when the R & D costs are recouped. ($100 VCR movie.)

      In this instance, it matters how large the target market is... [fscip.org] hmmm, larger than I would've guessed.

      As Mr. Schrekli has taught us, increased production can also lead to increased prices. As long as there either is a monopoly, or more customers than the cheapest producer can handle, there will be gouging.

      As for the price, $40k is not much. My hip implants cost around that much, not counting the surgery.
      And in my youth, I had $20k manual wheelchairs (adjusted for inflation).

  • It's an amazing product for paraplegic people, but is there something for people that walk but with pain(i.e knee problem)?

    I would love something like that for my grampa...
    • Yes. [youtube.com] This is where developers will eventually be able monetize these products.

      Military injuries and a longer life expectancy are leading us toward a population of ready customers.

      The problem is still the pricing.

      • Oh, I had already seem that one. But if I search for it on google, I only find another type of waking assist(by honda too) is being leased. And that one doesn't help a lot with knee problems...
  • by Longjmp ( 632577 ) on Thursday February 04, 2016 @10:22AM (#51438465)
    This is great news for disabled people. Exoskeletons do more than the obvious: They give the wearer, being able to stand and walk again, more self-confidence, .

    My second thought however reveals my evil side:
    Imagine this thing has wireless access. If so, it can be hacked.
    Now picture some guy walking along a busy street with an exoskeleton, and me in a cafe nearby, seemingly playing "Frogger" on my laptop...
    • There is no reason why this thing should have wireless access. :P A hardwired port for firmware updates should be it.

    • by Ranbot ( 2648297 )

      Now picture some guy walking along a busy street with an exoskeleton, and me in a cafe nearby, seemingly playing "Frogger" on my laptop...

      You want to reenact of the Wallace and Gromit "The Wrong Trousers" episode.

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