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Bionics: From Hollywood movies to life-changing reality

By Oliver Joy
updated 4:24 AM EDT, Thu September 27, 2012
  • Ekso Bionics has designed a bionic suit to give paraplegics the power to walk unaided.
  • The robotic skeleton is a battery-powered outfit that is strapped over the user's clothing.
  • The company expects to sell up to 45 suits in the U.S. by the end of 2012.

(CNN) -- Bionic engineering -- long the subject of science fiction novels and Hollywood blockbusters -- is now helping paraplegics make walking a reality.

The so-called Ekso, a mechanical skeleton created by California-based company Ekso Bionics, is designed to give paraplegics the power to walk unaided.

The innovation mean the power of bionics, which inspired the hit movie Iron Man and the television series The Six Million Dollar Man, is becoming reality.

Suzanne Edwards, who suffered a spinal chord injury that left her wheelchair-bound, has used the Ekso and told CNN it was an "amazing feeling."

Edwards said, "to be told you are never going to walk again, and then to be up and walking so quickly and easily in this -- and it feels so natural and normal -- you know you can't really fault it."

Ekso Bionics chief executive Eythor Bender and his team developed the robotic model to help wheelchair users and those who have suffered spinal chord injuries.

The mechanical skeleton is a ready-to-wear, battery-powered outfit that is strapped over the user's clothing and responds to a control panel.

The company also offers assistance for the more able-bodied. "We are working with soldiers -- the most able-bodied -- to carry more weight and reduce back injuries," Bender said. "Then there is everyone in between that [who] need power," he added.

"Construction workers need to hold tools to become more productive, and you and me might want to climb Kilimanjaro and need extra power from a bionic leg," he said.

The developments of Ekso Bionics are funded through private investments and government grants. The company is also targeting the medical industry.

It has sold 16 devices to rehabilitation centers and hospitals in the U.S. The company expects that to rise to 45 by the end of 2012. In Europe, they expect to deliver up to 20 suits this year.

The exo-skeleton costs $130,000 -- but Bender believes this is a small price to pay. "It's a high cost but considering you are helping people walk again, I think it is pretty cheap," he said.

CNN's Oliver Joy contributed to this report

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