The new Tek Robotic Mobilization Device is designed to help people who have lost the use of their legs to stand up and move around in an upright position with seemingly little effort.
With the help of a pressurized spring similar to ones found in office chairs and car hatchbacks, users can move their bodies into the Tek device's upright frame and, once standing, navigate the device using a joystick.
Necati Hacikadiroglu, the device's inventor who specializes in robotics, said it was designed to give paraplegics independence they can't get from a wheelchair. It even comes with a remote control.
"Paraplegic people don't like to be attached to any device or a wheelchair all day long," he said. "The user can get on to the device all by himself so that he doesn't need any outside help."
Many of us may take our ability to stand for granted, but the position is actually important for health. Being confined to a seated position increases the risk of blood clots, blood pressure abnormalities and kidney and urinary problems. Dr. Peter Gorman, chief of rehabilitation medicine at Kernan Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Hospital in Baltimore, said paraplegics often lose bone mass in their legs, which puts them at a greater risk of fractures.
As important are the psychological benefits of standing along with everyone else.
"Just being at eye level with people is a human desire," Gorman said.
David Blackburn, a psychologist who works with physical rehabilitation patients at Scott and White Hospital in Temple, Texas, said giving paraplegics the same independence as their able-bodied peers vastly improves their quality of life. But he said no device is likely to fix feelings of loss and frustration for people who suddenly lose the use of their legs.
"The problem that needs to be overcome is the acceptance of their condition," Blackburn said. "But if you have a device or tool, anything that can help normalize a person's life, especially with regard to mobility, that will help them a lot."
On its website, manufacturer AMS Mekatronik, a research and development company in Istanbul, Turkey, touts the device's compact frame and the fact that paraplegics can mount it easily, unlike a wheelchair, which requires a person to essentially throw their body onto it.
Gorman said there are standing wheelchairs and other robotic devices that can keep paraplegics in an upright position. But their frames are in the back, meaning paraplegics need assistance getting in or out of them.
"The frame in the front is a unique innovation. You can get into this thing without too much hassle," Gorman said.
Hacikadiroglu said each device is custom-made according to a person's height and weight. It's designed mainly for indoor use. But at a cost of $15,000, most people probably wouldn't risk taking it for a spin in the great outdoors.