Exoskeleton offers paralyzed vets options to walk

The first veteran provided an exoskeleton for personal use that enables him to walk will be in California next week as part of a veteran’s health summit that will include a look at the future of bionics.

The event, the Veterans Innovation Summit for Investing & Technology, VISIT, intends to bring together individuals, industry and organizations interested in accelerating the rehabilitation and recovery of military veterans through emerging technology and medical advances.

Retired CW5 Gary Linfoot suffered a spine-crushing injury in Iraq half a dozen years ago when the helicopter he was piloting had a hard landing. But last Veterans Day the former 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment made headlines when he walked during a press event at the Statue of Liberty.

“From the time I was injured I knew there would be something else. I had no idea what that would be,” Linfoot told Military Times, which produced a video of the event. “At the same time I guess I always knew that one day I would walk again …  I never expected it to be this early, though.”

Currently, Linfoot also relies on a pair of canes when he walks, and his wife, Mari, lends some support and balance by holding the back of the system, though he expects advances in technology will eventually make these aids unnecessary.

Linfoot had walked with the exoskeleton previously, including at the 2012 American Airlines’ Skyball convention. And it was at the 2103 Skyball that he was presented with his own personal system – underwritten to the tune of $100,000 from the Infinite Hero Foundation.

Linfoot will demonstrate the system again next week when the forum takes up bionics, according to Marlee Dippolito, a spokeswoman for the Infinite Hero Foundation, which is sponsoring the event. Russ Angold, co-founder and chief technology officer for Ekso Bionics, which manufactures the exoskeleton, will be there, along with Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, head of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“A new generation of bionics is restoring touch and natural movement to those who have lost a limb, transforming the lives of more than 2,000 injured veterans since 2000,” Dippolito said.

The system used by Linfoot, manufactured by Ekso Bionics of California, was developed in part with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Dippolito said that Linfoot has taken more than 150,000 steps with his Ekso device and collected critical data that will help advance this technology for future users.

“Gary will speak to his progress and how the suit is helping him re-imagine his recovery by restoring touch and natural movement – it’s going to be a very special moment, we expect,” she said.