Last week Berkeley Bionics unveiled eLEGS, “an exoskeleton for wheelchair users who are committed to living life to its fullest.\” They are the first company in the world to develop a practical exoskeleton that allows people to stand up and walk away from their wheelchairs. I defy you to watch their video without an emotional reaction. It’s technology that provides much more for the human race than “an Apple a day” – it\’s mobility with a higher calling.
CEO Eythor Bender says, “Many of the 6 million Americans who live with some form of paralysis today were highly active and at the top of their game when they sustained their injury. Wheelchairs have been pretty much the only alternative – their only hope – for nearly 500 years. We want to enhance their independence and freedom of movement, and with eLEGS, they can stand up and walk for the first time since their injury.”
Imagine that you are a strapping, freewheeling 25-year-old man who is hanging out at a swimming pool one hot summer day with friends drinking beer and cutting up. You see a particularly nice bikini in the water and you dive in after it. Instantly you realize you\’ve had too much beer – that you’ve hit bottom and you can’t move. Your buddies drag you out of the water, but when they do, you’ve taken your last step.
That’s a true story. That 25-year-old is now close to 50. He hasn’t had a walk in the park in nearly a quarter of a century. He used to hunt and fish and roam the woods with his dogs. I try and visualize what it would mean to him to get up out of that rolling prison and feel himself upright and standing tall again. The idea sends thrills through me that no news of an updated gadget ever has.
Today I love technology and the miracles that can occur when it intersects with “ethics” and is aimed at serving the greater good instead of the greater greed. I hope my friend gets the chance to suit up in some eLEGS before his journey ends. And if I had a million dollars, I’d bet it all on Berkeley Bionics and the hope they’ve given millions this week for a walk in the park on a lovely autumn day.
Photo of eLegs courtesy of Berkeley Bionics.