Press-Republican

FYI...

May 9, 2014

A 'wearable robot' helps her walk again

WASHINGTON — Science is about facts, numbers, laws and formulas. To be really good at it, you need to spend a lot of time in school. But science is also about something more: dreaming big and helping people.

"We're living in a technological day and age where we can improve quality of life," said Amanda Boxtel, talking by phone from her Colorado home. "I think anything goes, anything is possible."

Boxtel, 46, should know. When she was 24, a ski accident left her unable to use her legs. A doctor told her she would never walk again. Now, with new technology called a bionic exoskeleton, she is able to stand on her own two feet.Af

"To stand up and walk with a natural gait, it was everything I had imagined," she said.

Boxtel will speak Sunday at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, where she will demonstrate her exoskeleton, which she said is like a "wearable robot."

For about an hour a day and with help from a physical therapist, Boxtel puts on the metal casing over her clothes. It allows her to stand upright. The exoskeleton works as the parts of her body that no longer function: The metal frame is like her skeleton; four motors serve as her muscles; six joints take the place of her ankles, knees and hips; and sensors on the robot take the place of her nerves. To walk, Boxtel shifts her weight from one side to the other, which signals to the sensors that she wants to take a step.

In science, ideas and inventions are often built on from one generation to the next. In 1890, a Russian scientist named Nicholas Yagn designed a harness for Russian soldiers to wear that would help them run faster. In the 1960s, the U.S. military started developing a suit that would help soldiers carry 200 pounds of equipment. In 2005, a company called Ekso Bionics began making the exoskeleton that Boxtel wears. Other companies have started making them, too.

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