If California robotics startup SuitX has anything anything to say about it, wheelchairs might be obsolete in just a few short years. Earlier today, the company revealed a new exoskeleton, dubbed the Phoenix, designed to help disabled people get around without the help of wheeled mobility devices. It’s definitely not the first suit of its kind, but it also happens to be cheaper, lighter, and easier to manufacture than most other devices of its kind, which is a pretty big deal.
For the most part, the Phoenix works just like most other exoskeletons do. It’s essentially a wearable robot that augments and enhances the wearer’s movements — but it’s also got a few innovative new design features that make it more user-friendly.
“We started SuitX out of our passion to develop low-cost consumer bionic products to improve the quality of life for people around the world,” creator Dr. Homayoon Kazerooni said in a statement. “We have tackled problems associated with design, human machine interface (HMI), actuation, power management, and control during the development of our medical exoskeletons. We designed the Phoenix to be accessible and versatile so that it can be used by children.”
First and foremost, it’s relatively lightweight. Tipping the scales at just 27 pounds, the Phoenix weighs almost half as much as the ReWalk exoskeleton — its biggest competitor. Yet despite the lack of heft, the Phoenix still sports enough battery power to provide four hours of continuous walking, or roughly eight hours of intermittent use. That’s more than enough to get a person to the grocery store and back (though at a top speed of 1.1 miles per hour, it might still be faster to use a wheelchair).
The Phoenix system is also designed to be modular, so it can easily be rearranged as needed to suit a wider range of people and disabilities. Most other exosuits are typically designed for people who have mobility issues in both legs, but the Phoenix’s design allows it to adapt to, say, a tall person who only needs assistance for one knee. Additionally, the suit’s gait parameters can be fine tuned via an Android app so that the assisted walking motions feel more natural and comfortable to the wearer.
And the best part? The suit’s minimal design makes it relatively cheap to manufacture, so SuitX can sell it for just $40,000. Of course, that’s still ridiculously expensive by most people’s standards, but in comparison to other exoskeletons that are currently available (which typically cost around $70,000 to $100,000), that’s a tiny sum. SuitX hopes that this will make exoskeleton technology more accessible for people who those who need it.
The company is currently accepting pre-orders, and expects that the first Phoenix exoskeletons will ship out sometime in March.