Recently I read an article in Parade magazine about a robot-like product that the author claims, for now, “represents the best science has to offer paraplegics.” Yet another device designed by a well-meaning inventor who thinks all paras want is to stand and walk again, no matter how awkward, noisy and impractical the invention. Sorry, but I just don’t buy it, and won’t, not for $30,000-$40,000.
Before you cast me as an embittered old cripple who curses fate daily for his unbearable loss, hear me out. What galls me is the way Parade packages the invention: “Prescription Hope/Restoring the Power to Walk.” I’ve written before about the first article I ever saw like this, published in the L.A. Times in 1966, which introduced functional electrical stimulation — in those days called bioelectric engineering. That pioneering concept, now 44 years old, was more forward-thinking than this recent option, mainly because it had the ability to restore muscle tone and was a novel use of a mainframe computer — with potential to be miniaturized and refined many times over.
This latest invention is essentially a pair of motorized hinged-knee braces that require the use of forearm crutches and is powered by a backpack (battery and computer) that weighs 10 pounds. The author writes that “even for experienced users, walking with the technology is an ungainly process,” and slow. A helper must steady the user when he loses his balance. This is the best science has to offer?
In defense of the inventor, a para,