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article imagePhoenix brings affordability into the world of paraplegics

By Anand Srivastava     Feb 4, 2016 in Technology
With SuitX taking the initiative to create affordable exoskeletons paraplegics can now tread freely, without worrying about durability issues.
We all know how utilitarian robotic exoskeletons and bionic suits are. These prosthetic innovations have come a long way — treading on the paths of science fiction and finally transforming into an objective reality. For some the cost was an impeding factor, which will not be an issue anymore with SuitX taking the matter into its own hands.
In its maiden effort, SuitX is planning to cut down the price of exoskeletons. The company has already announced the "Phoenix" — the first exoskeleton that will cost $40,000. For some this figure might still be too much, but compared to the existing suits Phoenix does a pretty good job. It all started with ReWalk — the first exoskeleton with FDA affiliation — costing something in excess of $69,000. Things have normalized since then and Phoenix offers a pretty hefty price cut for the paraplegics to be happy about.
However, it isn’t only about the price as SuitX takes pride in creating a light-weighted exoskeleton. Phoenix weighs 27lbs and makes it easier for people to walk at a considerable pace. It is even easier for someone on a wheelchair to wear this gadget and the modular design makes sure one can remove and wear the same, at will.
We cannot get everything for a slashed price, as Phoenix makes a few negligible trade-offs on its way to creation. Compared to ReWalk, Phoenix offers a maximum speed of 1.1mph — at-least 0.5 mph less than the predecessor. Battery life can be an issue for some with Phoenix offering four hours at one go, compared to an eight-hour backup support for the ReWalk. Phoenix offers a competitive price as most prosthetic limbs are dearer when gauged in the long run. Depending on the limb and the nature of injuries, the price range happens to be something around $5,000 to $50,000. That said, most of these limbs have durability issues and Phoenix will certainly address the elephant in the room.
Phoenix: The origin story
SuitX introduces Phoenix as its maiden attempt at affordable exoskeletons. However, this innovation happens to be the brainchild of Dr. Homayoon Kazerooni, CEO SuitX and a Professor at UC Berkeley. The lower price tag is justified as Phoenix addresses a solitary action pertaining to the human body. It targets walking rather than replicating the full repertoire of handy gestures.
Designing Phoenix involved close examination of human knee — both structures and capabilities. The gadget was then created, duplicating only a limited subset. According to FastCompany, Phoenix can only perform basic, hinge actions but not something like a twisting leap. This suit features motors at the hip joints — offering limited resources.
Buttons are skillfully mounted on the crutches. The implementation is quite easy — forward button pushes the leg forward, allowing knee flexing. On any opposite impact, the hinge contracts and readily absorbs the opposing force.
If research is closely followed, most of these exoskeletons focus on industrial and military applications. With the U.S. having around 270,000 paraplegics, the availability of something as cheap as Phoenix might just be a new leap into the future. The approach is now turning tangible. Costs are still on the higher side but SuitX may ring in the advent of more affordable options.
More about Exoskeletons, Paraplegics, Phoenix
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