On June 12th 2014, a paraplegic gave the first kick in the World Cup in Brazil using an Iron Man style bodysuit controlled by his brain. ( video )
For people not familiar with paralysis caused by spinal cord injury, this robotic suit also called an ‘exoskeleton’. It may look very useful, but unfortunately that is not the case. I have nothing against robotics as they can be a useful complementary approach, but the attention and funding they get seems to be exaggerated when considering its potential results especially when compared to the potential of regenerative therapies. These devices don’t make us walk, they just move our legs! At the same time they don’t do anything to recover important functions such as breathing, hand functions, sensation, bowel, bladder and sexual functions etc…
What exoskeletons actually do is divert attention and money away from what could really give us back what we need to live an independent life: medical research directed to find a cure for chronic spinal cord injury.
Like me, many people living with paralysis are very worried by the fact that there seems to be growing support to develop exoskeletons as a solution for paralysis and the main argument in support of that is that a real cure is a long way off.
This concern grows when we hear that the Brazilian government gave $14 million in the last two years to support this project. http://www.iflscience.com/technology/paraplegic-ironman-suit-will-take-first-kick-2014-world-cup
I wonder: what progress toward a cure could have happened if in the past two years $14 million had been given to a research group working to find a cure for chronic spinal cord injury?
Unfortunately we will never know that, but we know for sure that exoskeletons no matter how much they will be improved will keep us paralyzed. This is why I would far rather see resources devoted to a regenerative intervention that would address the full breadth of the ravages of paralysis than the prospect that maybe one day, 5 or 10 years from now, someone can strap a shower cap full of electrodes to my head so that I can “walk” myself into a wall because of a technical problem that sooner or later any device will have.
I hope that in the coming years researchers working to find a cure will have at least the same level of funding as the ones working on exoskeletons; it would be logical to put much more money toward a cure since a cure has much better outcome than the best possible exoskeleton. Will logic prevail?
It’s time people wake up and support a cure not robots!
Cure Girl Loredana