What it feels like to train with a robotic exoskeleton

Sarah Thomas, paralysed in a road accident, tells us what the Ekso GT is like to wear
Training with a robotic exoskeleton
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The Ekso Bionics GT exoskeleton is at the cutting edge of rehabilitation robotics and reportedly costs in the region of $100,000. Over 1,000 people have used the futuristic gait training tool, designed to improve the mobility and health of victims of lower body paralysis. Some have even been awarded access to the Ekso GT as part of legal settlements.

Read this: How the Ekso Bionics GT works

One of those people is Sarah Thomas who has been training with an Ekso GT twice weekly for six months at the Royal Bucks hospital in Buckinghamshire. She suffers from an incomplete spinal cord injury which affects her lower limbs, as a result of a road accident five and a half years ago in Australia, and uses a wheelchair to get around.

The exoskeleton initiates steps using electric motors, controlled by buttons, hip movement or shifting weight depending on the patient, and decides how much assistance to give the wearer step by step.

This is what it's like strapping it on twice a week and why it's worth it, in Sarah's own words.

The Ekso GT strengthens my core

Ekso has and continues to strengthen my core which greatly assists when walking. For the first time in five years I can do sit ups without leaning and pushing up from my left arm and stronger side of my stomach.

The calliper walking at home has improved by me focusing on the quality of the steps rather than the quantity. I think that this will only continue to get better and better. I love the fact that you can change the perimeters to target specified areas that you wish to concentrate and really work on.

A focused mind is needed to get results

I initially struggled trying to get my head around what I was supposed to be doing. There is much to take on board mentally, to then be able to try and physically act out all the commands needing to be done. Only now do I feel that I am at that level where I can understand all that is required of me. I feel that with a focused and undistracted mind this is certainly achievable over time with continued use.

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It lifts my mood

I make sure that I work with the Ekso but also try to do my very best to match if not beat the perimeters set. The physiotherapists log and chart the progress that I have made week by week to keep me on track.

Using the Ekso is like having a ray of sunshine in my life - it lifts my mood, it makes me feel as though I am achieving and at times exceeding my expectations. Mostly I feel satisfied after having done a session.

My organs function better

I feel that Ekso has greatly improved my life in a couple of significant ways already. My internal organs function a lot better and I do not suffer as much as I did with my bowel as the Ekso helps keep things moving along and functioning as it should. Through regular use I have more than doubled my bladder capacity. This to me has made a significant improvement.

I like the corset effect

Ekso is a solid, hefty bit of kit. I like the corset like effect for obvious reasons as it makes me look a lot svelter.

Aesthetic reasons aside, I feel supported but not over-supported to the extent that the Ekso marks my skin. We check each time to make sure that my skin is fine and I've not had any issues relating to that to date. I feel safe when I use it.