The Jeff Wise Blog

Glee’s Walking Machine: Fact and Fiction

As a loyal devotee of Glee, I was stunned to see the the ReWalk exoskeleton featured in last night’s climactic scene. I won’t get into the plot details, but basically the ReWalk functions as a Christmas miracle, letting Artie walk again, albeit in a limited way.

Even more surprising than the inclusion of this rather arcane technology is the fact that the show’s description of if was entirely accurate. (This is, after all, a rather fantastical show.) They got the name right, and the fact that it’s been developed in Israel. And, true to life, the machine doesn’t let Artie just hop around. In order to use it, he has to press an arm-mounted keypad, and then take tentative steps one at a time. But by golly, he’s actually up and moving!

The most unrealistic aspect of the presentation was that, a) you can’t just buy a ReWalk yet; to use one you’d need to be enrolled in a clinical trial, of which there’s only one in the US, near Philadelphia b) it takes a fair bit of training to master.

UPDATE: With just a few days of shopping left before Christmas, word comes that ReWalk has been approved for sale by the FDA. Not for home use, as seen in Glee, but for use by patients in clinics and hospitals. “The ReWalk system will be available for sale as of January, for institutional use only,” says Heather Newcomb, Director of Communications at the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network near Philadelpha. “The cost will be around $85,000.” So even though no one will be finding one under their Christmas tree, a lot more people with spinal-cord injury will have a chance to ambulate again.

Here’s some video I took in January of one of the patients in the clinical trial, a man named Floyd Morrow:

And here’s a link to the story I wrote in Parade.

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4 Responses

  1. Eliot says:

    Thanks for posting that video! It was great seeing the ReWalk on glee. The show’s airing was very timely too as, just a few days prior it was announced that the ReWalk will be available for sale in January. The price? $100,000. So for most people it will still really be only feasibly available in clinical rehab settings. But it’s still awesome that it’s the first device of it’s kind to reach commercial production and with time, as with any new technology, the price should start to go down.

  2. jonathan says:

    i’m a T3 imcompletefrom the UK and i just finished watching glee season 2 volume 1 today and i’ve just find out about this and i think it’s abit unfair that it’s just for rehab in hospitals where we can try it at home use after being trialed

    • Jeff Wise says:

      Jonathan,
      The technology is really still in very early stages, the fact is that it’s not yet a practical mobility solution for paraplegics. But several companies are hot on the trail, and I have no doubt that within ten years some useful technology will be commercially available. That may seem like a long time — but on the other hand, at least there’s real hope, which there never has been before.
      Jeff

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Thinking About Fear & the Brain

If I find myself in a severe crisis, will I be able to keep it together? How can I control anxiety and panic? Is it possible to lead a life less bounded by fear? These are the sorts of questions that I'll be exploring in this blog, an offshoot of my book, Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger, published on December 8, 2009 by Palgrave Macmillan.

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