Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Woman meets bionic suit inventor

Amit Goffer meets Claire Lomas, who used the ReWalk suit to walk the London Marathon
Amit Goffer meets Claire Lomas, who used the ReWalk suit to walk the London Marathon

The quadriplegic inventor of a bionic suit has met a paralysed woman who used it to complete the London Marathon.

Every step of that superhuman feat in finishing last year's 26.2-mile marathon in 17 days was tough, mentally exhausting and involved extreme focus for disability rights campaigner and fundraiser Claire Lomas.

"God, he is clever and how did he do that?" Ms Lomas, of Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, said upon meeting Dr Amit Goffer, whose invention allows her to stand. "Spinal injury affects your body - it does not affect your brain. He certainly has been working hard."

Dr Goffer, a former electrical engineer, is in London for a special Science Week at schools, colleges, lecture theatres and universities across Britain to highlight the significant contributions that Israeli scientists are making worldwide.

After his 1997 accident he had wanted to create something which would allow wheelchair users to walk, climb stairs and stand eye-to-eye with others. The suit is designed for people with lower limb disabilities as an upright day-to-day alternative to a wheelchair. It is a brace based on the concept of an "exoskeleton".

Using the suit, Ms Lomas, 32, who was paralysed from the chest down after a freak riding accident in May 2007, was not only able to walk the marathon but also light the Paralympic cauldron in London's Trafalgar Square.

"It has been the best year of my life - and I never thought that would happen after my accident," she said. "I met (London Mayor) Boris Johnson, (Prime Minister) David Cameron and (London 2012 chairman) Seb Coe when I lit the cauldron and I met them all at eye level. For someone in a wheelchair, it felt amazing."

The ReWalk body suit is based on the exoskeleton concept, and is made up of a light wearable brace support suit with motors at the joint, rechargeable batteries, an array of sensors and a computer-based control system. It fits the body snugly to detect upper body movements, which are used to initiate and maintain the walking process. Wearers also use crutches for stability and safety.

Dr Goffer said: "The exoskeleton concept has been around for 60 years but the big difference in my opinion is that this is not a robotic device. It has technology but it is the person inside which is the big difference. This is why I think we have succeeded. The person inside of the device is actually in charge. They are triggering the walk and deciding when to stop."

Ms Lomas, who was paralysed after being thrown off by her horse while competing at Osberton Horse Trials, proudly states she "walked the London Marathon as a robot for Spinal Research" raising £210,000 and much-needed worldwide publicity of spinal injuries.

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