Wearable exoskeleton grants the gift of walking

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Indego walker
Staying balanced is suddenly far more natural.

Wheelchairs and crutches may soon be replaced by wearable exoskeletons (external support structures), judging by the incredible Indego Exoskeleton technology developed by Vanderbilt University.

The “bones” of their device simply strap around a person’s ankles and torso, allowing them to lean backwards or forwards to control walking speed!

“You can think of our exoskeleton as a Segway with legs,” said Michael Goldfarb, one of the developers from Vanderbilt. The Segway he’s referring to is like a motor scooter that people zip around in, but the Indego Exoskeleton offers a more natural method of moving about.

How exactly does this incredible contraption work?

Goldfarb explains, “If the person wearing it leans forward, he moves forward. If he leans back and holds that position for a few seconds, he sits down. When he is sitting down, if he leans forward and holds that position for a few seconds, then he stands up.”

This isn’t just some concept design on paper, either. The Indego Exoskeleton is already being tested by people with disabilities! Take Michael Gore, for example. 11 years ago, he got in an accident that damaged his back and left him unable to walk. However, he’s been using the new exoskeleton suit for 3 years now, and really loves the convenience of it. “It feels great,” said Gore. “It’s a feeling you forget when you’re in a chair for so long. It’s very exciting.”

Also, the wearable tech can be adjusted to walk with the person, rather than for them, acting more like a guide instead of semi-automatic crutches. This is especially helpful for those individuals who have some motor control, and want to build strength back into their muscles. “The device is intelligent enough that as they get stronger, it weans them off of the support from the device, so eventually they’re walking on their own,” said Ryan Farris, another one of the exoskeleton’s developers.

Indego Exoskeleton is set for release this coming spring, and the latest version will even allow users to break it down and pack it up in a suitcase!

Featured image courtesy of Vanderbilt University on YouTube. Image of exoskeleton courtesy of Indego and Parker.