The ReWalk, from Israeli company Argo Medical Technologies Ltd., is the first powered exoskeleton in our technology review series on walking devices. In each review, I’ll provide some technical information followed by my thoughts on the device and its usefulness in rehabilitation.
Overview: powered exoskeleton that provides user-initiated mobility. Two options 1) ReWalk-I = multi-user rehabilitation and training solution for institutions; 2) ReWalk-P = intended for daily use by a qualified paraplegic
Intended User: people with lower limb disability, must have functional hands, arms and shoulders
Purpose: promises to dramatically reduce the need for physiotherapy and re-hospitalization due to immobility-related complications in individuals with severe walking impairments
Release date: ReWalk-I is currently available for purchase in European and American Rehab facilities. ReWalk-P will be available for purchase by private use by the end of 2011. Expected to be released in Canada in 2012
Cost: $105,000 for ReWalk-I and approximately $20,000 for ReWalk-P (not confirmed through communication with the distributor)
My Take: The ReWalk appears to be a functional option for individuals with very good core strength and upper extremity function. Getting around in the community seems possible as the suit can help with stair climbing and descent, unfortunately, it is unknown how safe the ReWalk is. Although the client is required to use forearm crutches, there is no indication of how the device itself will prevent the user from falling. The suit appears a little bulky with multiple straps on the legs and torso, likely requiring a little longer set-up time than some other products on the market.
The user must wear a remote control on the wrist and select the desired activity (stand, sit, walk, descend, climb). What if you fall, you ask? Maybe there is a secret button sequence on the wrist band for specialized functions…but probably not 😉
The remote feature means the movements are pre-set in the computer (carried on the user’s back) and it is unclear how individualized the set-up is for each buyer. In the video, you can hear how loud the legs are during movement…making it unlikely to be popular with burglars and librarians.
Conclusion: The ReWalk looks and sounds like it was released in 1995 rather than 2011. The remote control is an interesting way to help the legs ascertain which movement the user would like to perform, but will definitely not benefit the user with positive neuroplastic changes that promote independent use of the limbs.
The website claims this device will reduce the need for physiotherapy, which may be true if you consider the device as a way to eliminate immobility impairments, but this device definitely does not replace therapy. From appearance, the only user-initiated movement occurs after the desired movement is selected from the remote control and the user then leans forward to start the movement sequence – all of which is initiated by the device and not the user. I would assume the user can help the movements along, but there is no feedback to let you know how much you are actually helping, if at all.
With its moderate price level for a sophisticated device, the ReWalk serves its purpose of getting certain individuals to walk, but its usefulness in a rehab setting is limited and I think newer technology will quickly have the ReWalk out with the ReCycling .