Friday, July 16, 2010

Helping Wounded Warriors--and everyone else: An economic, as well as humanitarian, necessity.

"Back on his feet with robot Rex." That's the headline, as reported by The Dominion Post  of New Zealand, about a man who can now walk, thanks to newly developed robotic legs--see picture above.  

Thus we can see a huge breakthrough, not only for the paralyzed, but also for the economy of whatever country succeeds in mass-producing this new invention, because the whole world will want it.  

But right now, it looks like the Kiwis have the lead, and deservedly so:
Inspired by Hollywood sci-fi and made in New Zealand, the world's first robotic legs may have already secured interest from the United States military.

Unveiled yesterday with a demonstration by a 23-year-old who had been told he would never walk again, the invention is expected to reap millions of dollars in sales each month.
Hayden Allen, who has been in a wheelchair since injuring his spinal cord in a motorcycle accident five years ago, said there was no better feeling than putting one foot in front of the other. "People say to me, `look up when you're walking' but I can't stop staring down at my feet moving."
Mr Allen, who broke his back in four places and his neck in three places, said the experience was emotional but fantastic.
The seven-year project to build the robotic legs had been shrouded in secrecy until unveiled by Rex Bionics, which said it had cost $10 million and "sweat equity" to develop.
Rex, which stands for robotic exoskeleton, is the brainchild of friends Richard Little and Robert Irving, who went to school together in Scotland 30 years ago.
The joystick-operated unit weighs 38 kilograms and enables a wheelchair user to stand, walk, and go up and down steps and slopes.
So it's possible to see a whole new industry being created--somewhere.  Right now, it looks like it will be in the country that did the work: New Zealand.  Better there than nowhere, but it would be great if we had followed Dean Kamen's advice, and concentrated on building up this sector in the US.  Sadly, instead of health creation, we went for health distribution--including an egregious new tax on medical equipment.   That's right, wounded warriors, and others who need help: the federal government wants less innovation

But it's  not too late, of course, to fully seize the economic as well as humanitarian potential of this sort of pro-active healthcare.  But it would require a policy change in Washington.   If Rex Bionics was inspired by Hollywood sci-fi movies of many years ago--"The Six Million Dollar Man," etc.--then imagine what "Avatar," released last year, with its vision of the crippled walking through avatars, is doing to the minds of impressionable young moviegoers.

It's a lot more fun to read articles about science and technology helping people than it is to read this disturbing report, from Pro Publica, on the Pentagon's handling of brain injuries at Fort Bliss, TX.  Although in the military's defense, if men and women are injured, there's no fully satisfactory answer to the challenges faced by wounded warriors, except to completely heal the injury.  And Rex Bionics has taken a major step toward doing just that.

1 comment:

  1. Per you:
    “But it's not too late, of course, to fully seize the economic as well as humanitarian potential of this sort of pro-active healthcare.”

    Maybe the VA can do somethings in these fields and make money for itself thus lessening our heroes pains and our tax payers costs?
    But I am not holding my breath!