New Generation of "Bionic" Body Parts Help Paralyzed Walk Again

Nov. 18, 2010: Paralyzed, retired Israeli military vet Radi Kaiuf gets up with help of "ReWalk" "bionic" legs. The device, made in Israel by paralyzed inventor Amit Goffer, goes on sale in America in early 2011.
AP Photo/Oded Balilty
"ReWalks's" "bionic" legs help paralyzed walk.
Nov. 18, 2010: Paralyzed, retired Israeli military vet Radi Kaiuf gets up with help of "ReWalk" "bionic" legs. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

JERUSALEM (CBS/AP) Will robotic pants one day help the paralyzed walk?

Well actually, they already exist, thanks to Amit Goffer, an Isreali entrepreneur, who refused to take his paralysis sitting down.

Goffer lost the use of his legs in a 1997 car crash. So he invented a way out: robotic "pants" that use sensors and motors to allow paralyzed patients to stand, walk and even climb stairs.

After several years of clinical trials in Israel and the United States, units will go on sale in January to rehabilitation centers around the world.

Goffer's new legs are part of a growing trend of "bionic" body parts designed to help incapacitated patients.

Tibion Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif., is promoting a "Bionic Leg" intended to help stroke patients walk again. Ossur of Iceland makes a powered knee prosthesis that lets amputees walk.

New Zealand-based Rex Bionics has developed a fully robotic, joystick operated unit, and others have marketed performance augmentation units that are not necessarily designed for the handicapped.

Goffer's system, called "ReWalk" and sold by his company Argo Medical, uses crutches for stability when users lean forward and move their upper body in different ways.

The 35-pound device, worn outside of clothing, consists of leg braces outfitted with motion sensors and motorized joints that respond to subtle changes in upper-body movement and shifts in balance. A harness around the patient's waist and shoulders keeps the suit in place, and a backpack holds the computer and rechargeable 3 1/2-hour battery.

When operated, it makes clanging robotic sounds, like the hero of the 1980s cult movie "Robocop."

"ReWalk is a man-machine device. The machine cannot walk by itself. The user cannot walk by himself. Only when they are together they can walk," said Oren Tamari, Argo's chief operating officer.

And while the new bionic parts may not let people run as fast as a car or strong enough to bend steel, for the paralyzed the gains of mobility are just as miraculous.

"I have a 3-year-old daughter," said ReWalk user Radi Kaiuf, who was paralyzed in the Israeli military. "The first time she saw me walking, she was silent for the first few minutes and then she said, 'Daddy you are tall.'"

"It made me feel so good," he said, "like I was soaring."