ReWalk, an invention of Israeli entrepreneur Amit Goffer, who was paralyzed in a 1997 accident, clasps on to the legs and waist, and is designed to create natural walking movements, including standing, sitting and turning through upper-body motion sensors and special software. Medical experts say its use helps keep organs and bones healthy and also enhances mental well-being. The product was one of the Israeli technologies highlighted with much fanfare as a symbol of flourishing commercial ties when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu during Abe’s visit to the Middle East earlier this year.
ARGO Medical Technologies’ ReWalk exoskeleton was one of the cutting-edge Israeli inventions demonstrated to President Barack Obama in Israel during his visit to a session hosted by Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. ReWalk inventor Dr. Amit Goffer, an alumni of the Technion, is a quadriplegic who was inspired to invent the exoskeleton device because of his own personal story and experience.
“It is an honor to have been chosen among many Israeli innovators to present the ReWalk technology to President Obama,” said Dr. Goffer. “This device is already improving the quality of life for many people and we look forward to seeing its continued expansion around the world including in the US where we are awaiting FDA clearance for daily personal use.”The technology was demonstrated by Israeli Army Veteran Radi Kaiuf and US Army Veteran Theresa Hannigan, paraplegics who can now stand and walk independently with the ReWalk. Sgt. Hannigan served during the Vietnam era and was left paralyzed two years ago as a result of a progressive autoimmune disease.
“I’m so pleased to have the opportunity to demonstrate for President Obama this amazing technology that will benefit the lives of many men and women who have been impacted by spinal cord injuries,” said Sgt. Hannigan, who trains with the ReWalk at the Spinal Cord Damage Research Center at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. “A couple of years ago, doctors told me I would never walk again, but now thanks to this technology I am able to do anything from standing-up and hugging my family to walking a one-mile road race.”
Yuichi Imahata’s 9-year-old daughter is thrilled her dad stands tall above her head. It’s an experience that is new to her. Imahata, 31, has been using a wheelchair to get around for seven years after a serious spinal-cord injury suffered in an accidental fall while working for a transport company. He completely lost sensation in both legs and was told he would never walk again.
A robotic exoskeleton called ‘ReWalk’ at Kanagawa Rehabilitation Center in Atgugi (Credit: AP)
Japanese robotics maker Yaskawa Electric Corp. has been distributing ReWalk in Asia under a deal signed last year with ReWalk Robotics, based in Yokneam, Israel. The effort is going far more smoothly in places such as China than in Japan, said Yaskawa spokesman Ayumi Hayashida. Hayashida believes ReWalk is being met by bureaucratic stonewalling that is typical of the frustrations Japanese businesses face in doing something new.
Yaskawa is hoping to fine-tune the $71,600 ReWalk to make it lighter and smaller and hopefully cheaper. It currently requires upper body strength and is not the best design for the elderly. It also requires 40 hours of training. Yet even in its current form, the device spells freedom for wheelchair users, who can feel confined to a low eye-level. “I’ve seen Americans using ReWalk on YouTube. They can reach things on shelves,” said Imahata.
He dreams of wearing ReWalk to his daughter’s school for the annual athletics event, standing in a crowd of parents, peering with anticipation over shoulders and heads, and catching a glimpse of his girl in action. Explore further in www.rewalk.com