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eLEGS exoskeleton

For the past 500 years, the only real option for paraplegics who want to stay mobile has been a chair with wheels on it. That’s fine by Aaron Fotheringham, the wheelchair stunt king, but pretty rubbish for most other people. This year, however, all that changes. In one giant leap for mankind, the exoskeleton has arrived.

Developed by Berkeley Bionics, eLEGS is basically a set of robot legs that you strap to your own body, which will support you when standing and walking around. As you can see on the video, this means that those formerly confined to wheelchairs can literally get out of their chairs and walk, possibly for the first time in decades. No wonder it was named by Time Magazine as one of the 50 best inventions of 2010.

The intelligent machine uses sensors fitted into crutches, and gesture-recognition to interpret the movements that a user wishes to make. It then makes those movements on their behalf, accurately mimicking the human stride. It’s truly more Big Dog-style science fiction, but this is no prototype: eLEGS will be pacing the aisles of rehab centres in the USA within the next few months. At first the device will be restricted to medical practices, but it could be available for home use by 2013.

Of course, there is no light without darkness, and eLEGS does have an evil, cooler twin named HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier). This has been developed to help soldiers carry their increasingly heavy backpacks without developing a chronic back injury, so it’s perhaps not that evil. (Or maybe it’s just to help them carry more ammo.) HULC is now being developed by Lockheed Martin; expect to see it being worn by a soldier near you in the near future, if their government can afford it.

More info at Berkeley Bionics and Lockheed Martin

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