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‘Ironman’ suit could help paraplegics walk

Project Engineer Shelley Rea demonstrates the X1 Robotic Exoskeleton for resistive exercise, rehabilitation and mobility augmentation in the Advanced...
NASA project engineer Shelley Rea demonstrates the X1 Robotic Exoskeleton for resistive exercise, rehabilitation and mobility augmentation. Photo Date: 6/1/2012 Location: B32A, Room 1000 Photographer: Robert MarkowitzRobert Markowitz / NASA

A robotic exoskeleton similar to Ironman’s powered armor suit could help paraplegics walk, according to NASA researchers who designed the device to keep astronauts in shape on flights to Mars.

The 57-pound X1 suit is worn over a person’s body and can be used to either assist or inhibit movement of the leg joints. 

Inhibit mode provides the resistance astronauts need for a workout while idle for months-on-end in a spaceship bound for Mars or doing time on the International Space Station. 

In reverse mode, the exoskeleton works with the wearer, providing stability and movement assistance. This could be used to help paraplegics walk on Earth. 

Other potential applications for the X1 include rehabilitation, gait modification, and offloading weight from the wearer to the exoskeleton.

This isn’t the first exoskeleton built. In fact, this August a British woman paralyzed from the chest down in a horse riding accident took home a robotic exoskeleton that enables her to walk

And Raytheon has been working on its Exoskeleton for the military for several years which will help soldiers in the field gain super-human strength. 

The X1, however, is more comfortable, easier to adjust, and easier to put on than other exoskeleton devices, according to preliminary studies on the technology at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition

The exoskeleton is currently in the research and development stage. Future improvements may include additional joints in the ankle and hip areas for greater movement.

The suit is a spinoff technology from NASA’s Robonaut 2 project, a humanoid robot currently getting its first workout on the International Space Station.

To see the X1 in action, check out the video below.

– via Network World 

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.