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Thanks for the memories  July 26, 2012

Paralysed woman completes London Marathon in robot suit

(Credit: Claire Lomas)

Claire Lomas suffered a T4 spinal injury in a 2007 horse-riding accident that left her paralysed from the chest down. In 2012, she completed the London Marathon. What happened in between was the development of a robotic suit that let her tackle the challenge on her own two legs.

It took 17 days for the 32-year-old resident of Leicestershire, England, to cross the finish line. Her motivation for the marathon was to raise funds for spinal cord injury research. So far, she has raised nearly US$200,000.

The robotic ReWalk suit, one of several such devices, is made by Israeli company Argo Medical Technologies. It's a powered exoskeleton full of motion sensors, rechargeable batteries and a computer system that allows the walker to control the suit. ReWalk lets users stand, walk and even climb and descend stairs. Crutches are used for stability (Lomas still has use of her arms).

The London Marathon was won in a time of 2:04:44. It took Lomas quite a bit longer to reach the end, due to the speed of the suit, the need to recharge it and the need to rest from the exertions.

Lomas didn't receive a medal, since she wasn't able to finish the marathon in the same day, but other runners stepped up to donate their medals to this real-life version of the bionic woman.

Lomas' completion of a marathon in a robot suit is an impressive milestone for technologies designed to improve mobility for paralysed people. The ReWalk suit, for example, is designed for everyday use. The marathon accomplishment is convincing proof of that possibility.

Check out one of Lomas' early ReWalk training sessions in the video below to see the suit in action.


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