More than a decade of work by a team with University of California Berkeley’s Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory has paid off, as a new, lighter and more agile exoskeleton recently was unveiled, according to a news release.
The robotics lab, a team of graduate students led by mechanical engineering professor Homayoon Kazerooni, PhD, developed the original technology for the Phoenix, made by SuitX. According to the release, SuitX was spun off from the robotics lab; Kazerooni is the company’s founder and CEO.
Weighing 27 pounds, the Phoenix is lightweight, has two motors at the hips and electrically controlled tension settings that tighten when the wearer is standing and swing freely when walking, according to the release. Users can control the movement of each leg and walk as fast as 1.1 mph by pushing buttons integrated into a pair of crutches. The exoskeleton is powered for as long as eight hours by a battery pack worn in a backpack.
“We can’t really fix their disease,” Kazerooni said in the release. “We can’t fix their injury. But what it would do is postpone the secondary injuries due to sitting. It gives a better quality of life.”
Over the years, Kazarooni and his team have developed a series of exoskeletons. Their work began in 2000 with a project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to create a device, now called the Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton or BLEEX, to help people carry heavier loads for longer. At that time, Kazerooni also realized the potential use for exoskeletons in the medical field, particularly as an alternative to wheelchairs, according to the release.
The team then started developing new devices to restore mobility for people who had become paraplegic.
In 2011, they made the exoskeleton that helped Berkeley senior Austin Whitney, who is paralyzed from the waist down after a 2007 car accident, walk across the graduation stage to receive his diploma, according to the release. Soon after, the Austin Project was created in honor of Whitney, with a goal of finding new technologies to create reliable, inexpensive exoskeleton systems for everyday personal use.
Today, the Phoenix is one of the lightest and most accessible exoskeletons to hit the market, according to the release. It can be adjusted to fit varied weights, heights and leg sizes and can be used for a range of factors that limit mobility. And, although it costs $40,000, it’s about the half the cost of other exoskeletons, according to the release.
Read more about SuitX’s Phoenix suit in the MIT Technology Review.