ReWalk Robotics: Science Fiction As Reality
I was lucky enough to learn from Larry Jasinski, CEO of ReWalk Robotics, a company that allows people who are paralyzed to walk again. Larry takes us through his journey to that led to ReWalk, inspiring real life stories of how the company transforms lives and his vision for the future. Here is what he had to say:
Forbes: How did you get into Robotics?
Jasinski: ReWalk Robotics was my entry point as an operating manager; however, my early interest came from reading science fiction via authors such as Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan. Professionally, I first saw applications from speaking with John Abele who was the founder of Boston Scientific. He was a very active sponsor of early Robotics competitions and education in the 1990’s and saw incredible possibilities for robotics. In 2011, I was approached by ReWalk Robotics as they were seeking a CEO to develop their concept which was an ideal combination of man and machine. The ReWalk system was essentially a perfect example of science fiction becoming reality and a product that inspired passion for how it could improve the health and well-being for those with a spinal cord injury.
Forbes: Tell us about your company?
Jasinski: ReWalk makes “Exoskeletons” which essentially helps people walk. Initially, we allow an individual that is completely paralyzed from the chest down to walk in the community, at work, at home or in any event in everyday life. We also believe these robotic / human combinations will eventually help individuals with MS, Stroke, some neuromuscular disorders and the disabilities that come with aging.
The system works with motors and gears that move the hip joints, knees and ankles in a manner that is similar to routine human walking. The advent of better sensing technologies, better batteries and proprietary software programs are the advances that have enabled these systems.
The company was born out of the knowledge and experiences of an inventor who became paralyzed as a result of an accident. He wanted to regain his independence by having control of standing and walking whenever he needed; to have a system that could work in many environments such as on sidewalks, in crosswalks or on the carpet at home; and to improve his health through the basic exercise gained from walking. In 2014, the company was the first to receive FDA clearance to provide these systems for use in everyday life. You can now see individuals walking down the street in these systems in Boston, New York, and other major American cities along with users in Japan, Europe and Israel.
Forbes: Share some stories of inspiration that ReWalk has enabled?
Jasinksi: We were able to provide a system to Captain Derek Herrera, who was injured in a battle leading his men in Afghanistan. He woke up in Germany in a hospital bed and learned he was paralyzed. In the months after, Capt. Herrera learned how to walk again with the ReWalk. Last November, he was able to wear his dress uniform and walk into and through his retirement ceremony. This man was an inspiration as he brought the same spirit he showed in his military service to the challenge of walking again. He showed many people what is possible in life.
In England, Ms. Claire Lomas was paralyzed from a horseback riding accident and during her rehab period she tried the ReWalk system. As she started walking again, she decided that she would walk the entire London Marathon route of 26.2 miles. Many individuals tried to talk her out of it as being too ambitious. Her response was to hold a press conference where she announced her plan. Shortly thereafter, she started in Greenwich and walked through sunny days, clouds, rain, across cobblestones and finished walking the entire route to Buckingham Palace over 17 days. She now tours England and speaks to groups about how to move on with your life after a devastating injury.
In Tennessee, a young lady, Marcela Turnage was in car accident where she lost her lower leg and was also paralyzed from the mid chest down. A close friend also died in the accident. She has learned to use the ReWalk and dedicates a great deal of time teaching others what it is like. This past Halloween, she decided to dress up as “Cat woman” and walked in her ReWalk Trick or Treating with her young daughter. This simple pleasure with her daughter was an example of what character and science can produce.
Forbes: What do you see for the future of your company and robotics in general?
Jasinski: We are a company focused on medical and rehabilitation uses of robotics and we will stay true to this mission. Our goal is to be able to move many therapies on to the home and community by providing designs that work in everyday life. These systems will become lighter, smaller and faster. We will know we have achieved that at a high level when use of these technologies is so common that it will be unnoticed by most when someone that used to be in a wheelchair or that could barely walk can simply “walk on by”.
These technologies have the potential to help millions worldwide that have spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, have other neuromuscular disorders or are disabled from other causes. It is an industry that has been estimated to become as large as $2.2 Billion by 2020, according to the Wall Street Journal.