The Hybrid Assistive Limb
The Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) is helping people suffering from spinal cord injuries, and muscular dystrophy regain their movements while also strengthening their nerves and muscles. The new device, known as exoskeletons, is a lightweight suit. It has joints powered by small electric motors. These then serve as mechanical muscles. Amazingly, patients use their brain waves to control them.
Developed by Yoshiyuki Sankai
Japanese roboticist Yoshiyuki Sankai developed the device. Looking ahead to 2050, the world will have more than two billion people over the age of 60. It is believed that exoskeletons could offer a solution to the world’s aging population. In the future, when a persons’ body wears down due to age, this device could help people to stay on their feet.
Brooks Cybernic Treatment Center Uses HAL
Earlier this year, the Brooks Cybernic Treatment Center, located in Jacksonville, Florida, was the first US center to use the technology. The first user was Kristen Sorensen, 55. She became paralyzed from the neck down last year. She said, “It came out of nowhere. I’d been fine and exercising every day, but it just started with tingling in my fingertips then progressed.” She was diagnosed with Guillain Barre Syndrome. This is a disorder affecting the body’s nervous system. Sorensen was never expected to walk again.
Sorensen Determined To Walk At Daughter’s Wedding
Sorensen heard about the brain wave-controlled exoskeleton. She immediately knew she had to try it. She was determined to walk at her daughter’s wedding a few months later. When she first tried the new device, she could hardly move across flat surfaces. Then a Brooks Center physiotherapist helped her fit HAL over her waist and trousers. Sorensen then had all of the electrical signals set up correctly, as these are what helps support the person’s movements. Sorensen quickly learned that you couldn’t just put on HAL and begin running down the street. It takes time and rehabilitation.
Sorensen Says It Was Incredible
As her rehabilitation continued, she said, “After the first couple of times, your brain connects to HAL, and I could see I was moving my legs myself. It was just incredible – my heart was just bursting.” The rehab center said it usually takes between two to 10 times for a person, with less severe mobility issues than Sorensen, to get used to HAL. It takes time for the sensors and brain to start working together. The training sessions last for 1 1/2 hours. After Sorensen had 40 training sessions, she was back on her feet, although she also used the help of a walker.
She was able to walk at her daughter’s wedding.