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Robotics Maker Ekso Aims to Help Wheelchair-Bound to Walk

Ekso has a little history as well. The original research that launched the Ekso Bionic suit took place at the Berkeley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley in 2005, with mechanical engineering professor Homayoon Kazerooni and Ekso co-founders Harding and Russ Angold partnering with the lab, as ExoWorks. Angold is now Ekso's chief technology officer.

In 2007, ExoWorks became Berkeley Bionics and began working off a $10 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA is an offshoot of the Defense Department, known for its ground-breaking research projects. The grant resulted in the Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC), an exoskeleton suit that helps soldiers to carry heavy loads. In 2009, that technology was licensed to Lockheed Martin (LMT - Get Report) for further military development. The latest version of the HULC can allow soldiers to carry up to 200 pounds over long distances and rough terrain.

A year later, Berkeley Bionics debuted eLEGS, a predecessor to the Ekso Bionics suit. In 2010, the company changed its name to Ekso Bionics. In 2012, it shipped the first Ekso Bionic suit to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo.

Today, there are 22 rehabilitation centers in the U.S. using Ekso suits, eight facilities in Europe and one in South Africa.

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The company is focused on the rehabilitation market.

"There are 3,500 rehab centers in the U.S. that deal with spinal and brain injuries that could use the Ekso," Harding said.

The suit is sold at a list price of $110,000 plus another $40,000 for a software upgrade and a $10,000-a-year maintenance agreement. The software upgrade enables a new feature called variable assist, which allows clinicians to target patients' strengths and weaknesses to make rehabilitation more productive.

Ekso has tried to continually upgrade its technology. The company recently rolled out the Ekso GT, a higher performing suit and the fourth evolution in two years.

"We are creating a new industry," CFO Max Scheder-Bieschin said.

The suit is used to train people with neurological conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injury and hemiparesis (a weakness on one side of the body) to walk again. A patient wears the suit works with a spotter and physical therapy personnel. According to the company, the Ekso can be used by patients with C7 spinal injury (paralysis of the legs and partial body paralysis) and incomplete spinal cord injury, and can also be used by non- or pre-ambulatory patients following a stroke.

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