The Dawn of an Era in Which the Paralyzed Can Walk


By Carlo Pelanda


Published in “Il Foglio”, Sept. 9, 2008


(Modified and translated by Marie Plishka)


Years ago, this column suggested the creation of an exoskeleton capable of restoring mobility to those with severe walking impairments, as well as assisting in the mobility of the elderly.  Such an exoskeleton is possible through the convergence of various technologies: exoskeleton robo-suits that amplify the strength of military servicemen and women; self-stabilizing mechanisms invented for the Segway Personal Transporter; robotized systems that functions as servo-mechanisms.  This column is excited to report the first concrete step in the development of such an exoskeleton.  The Israeli Argo Medical Technologies announced its experimentation with an exoskeleton (a body suit with reinforcements, in this case) capable of giving mobility to those who cannot walk.  The inventor is a paraplegic named Amit Goffer.  This opens an area of the market that has enormous potential both in business and in salvation.  Development of such a technology, however, is stifled due to problems with supply and demand.  How do we solve these problems and accelerate progress?


Goffer’s prototype offers mobility and independence, but it has shortcomings; mainly, it requires the use of crutches and is not maneuverable by severely physically impaired persons.  However, there is unlimited technological potential to further refine this invention.  What exactly is possible in the future?  It is a light-weight exoskeleton made of nanofiber that is comfortable to wear.  Every major joint is micromotorized and controlled by a computer that ensures stability in movement (fall-proof).  Those who are completely paralyzed would be able to maneuver the machine through a microchip inserted in the brain.  To develop the robot to such a level, there needs to be a stronger demand for the product.  What is currently produced for the impaired, even though it is significant, is characterized by either lightly capitalized products in a nationalized healthcare environment or by the assurance that it offers survival but not quality of life.  The key to increasing demand for the robot is to capture the special jobs market (police, firefighter, construction, logistic services, etc.)  Since Italy has surprising capabilities in the robotics sector, this columnist, also an entrepreneur in future technologies*, calls upon others to share the start-up costs.  We will make money, we will save people.