Mobility Challenges and What An Exoskeleton Can Do For You


Carrie Kellenberger Disability and Robotic LegsLearning about what an exoskeleton can do – I never dreamed this would be possible! [Updated 2020]

In October 2018, I was attending a government luncheon for Canadian delegates who had recently arrived in town to learn more about life in Taiwan. Although I usually try to avoid using a cane when I go to these luncheons, that day was unavoidable. I had to bring it along. 

While working our way through a delightful Taiwanese lunch, I listened to a man named Brian Chong from a company called Wistron in Taiwan. He revealed their new tech plans for a Canadian company called b-Temia. The tech is a set of robotic legs called KEEOGO that is made specifically for people with disabilities.

As I waddled towards him after lunch, he could see that something was wrong. When I told him what my health issues were and that I have massive mobility problems, he immediately offered to help by letting me try this new tech. A few weeks later, I found myself in the hands of my friends at the Canadian Trade Office in Taiwan. That day, I what an exoskeleton can do for patients like me.

If not for my work with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan, the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei, and the kindness of strangers, I never would’ve had this opportunity.

As I wandered around CTOT’s MacKay Room in KEEOGO Iron Man gear, the Wistron and CTOT teams were there to keep a close eye on me while also witnessing my delight at being able to do things I haven’t been able to do in years.

To say that I am grateful does not even begin to cover how I felt that day as I whizzed around the office sounding like a super hero. Carrie Kellenberger Fibromyalgia

When I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis in 2009, we didn’t know what was on the horizon for us. We knew things would be difficult for us in the future, but my doctors didn’t explain what would happen. We didn’t know that having missed this disease for over a decade meant that a lot of damage had already occurred that simply wasn’t fixable.

I never expected to lose my mobility, but that is what happened in July 2014 when my body gave out on me and I could no longer move the way I used to. Within six months, we knew it wasn’t going to get better. Year by year, I lost my energy to move and soon enough, I had a Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS diagnoses that severely limited my mobility and left me mostly housebound. 

This is why learning about what an exoskeleton can do for patients like me is so important!

When I learned that my diseases might lead to me never being able to walk or stand again for long periods of time, I worked harder than ever to stay on my feet. As I was impacted further and further by disease progression, we learned that the process of staying on my feet was going to be very hard. Since 2017, my baseline has been 3,000 steps per day. Anything over that lands me in ER.

We watch every step I take and every minute I’m on my feet. Neither of us ever thought we’d see the day when active Carrie went to a Carrie that could barely move. These illnesses have changed both our lives completely. 

The idea of never being able to walk again threw me into a funk when I first started using one in 2011. That year, John pushed me around Hong Kong so I could spend some time with my family for a trip. The first time I had to use a wheelchair, I couldn’t stop wiggling and trying to lift myself up, just to prove I could do it.

There are horrible health effects to being in a wheelchair, especially for those of us who might need to spend the rest of their life in a wheelchair. Depression, anxiety, dealing with people in the outside world who don’t understand your disability, pain from riding in a wheelchair all day, anger, denial, sorrow, the list goes on and on.

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You have no idea how many things come into play when you lose the use of your legs.

From Wheelchair to Exoskeleton – KEEOGO

We bought a wheelchair in late 2017 after we realized I had spent more time that year at home in bed than anywhere else. I found myself organizing events that I couldn’t attend. I found myself hiding how bad things really were. I smiled when friends asked me ok and then I’d go to the bathroom and cry because I was in so much pain. Then I’d cool my face off and get back out to pretending I was ok.

I think some of my friends had an idea of how hard it was to stand and walk and how much pain I was in, but most people weren’t aware of what was going on.

None of them gave much thought to how hard standing events were for me. I really suffered though those events. Coming home, John would immediately get ice packs and painkillers for me. I’d lie on ice hoping that we could keep my legs from swelling.

For days after each event, my husband carried the brunt of what we had to do at home and for work. 

I lost my freedom and my independence when I lost the use of my legs. Some days I don’t have the strength to push myself, and I found myself avoiding my wheelchair completely. I refused to go out or leave my bed, especially in early 2019 when things came crashing down.

Being in a wheelchair does great damage to your pride and physical sense of well-being. Reliance on a caregiver becomes of the utmost importance in such a short time. Losing your freedom and independence is devastating.

The day I got a call about testing out a robotic exoskeleton specifically designed for assisting people with mobility issues was life-changing!

What A KEEOGO Exoskeleton Can Do For You

For one day, I got to play Robocop and while I am waiting for some of my strength to come back so I can give it a go again, I’d like to tell you a little about robotic exoskeletons and how they will change lives for the better.

How will KEEOGO help people with mobility issues? What can an exoskeleton do for you?

A growing number of companies are developing exoskeleton technologies to help people with disabilities regain their mobility and autonomy.

Exoskeletons are being used to assist people who have limited to no ability to move around on their feet and are currently using wheelchairs and other mobility aids to move around. (I’ve used a cane and a wheelchair for over a decade.)

Mobility aids like KEEOGO allow people to move in ways that they couldn’t with their condition. They offer users the chance to regain abilities that they’ve lost.
Disability and Dermoskeleons

Robotic exoskeletons like KEEOGO will help people with all sorts of mobility issues, from Ankylosing Spondylitis and other forms of arthritis, to those with chronic debilitating conditions such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, to war veterans, to people who have suffered tragic accidents, and more.

B-Temia is a Canadian company that has designed and developed the first dermoskeleton, a sub-class of exoskeletons. It is called KEEOGO short for Keep On Going. (My favorite phrase to use even before I found out what KEEOGO stands for!)

With KEEOGO, the user must have some function in their legs. The user initiates the movements which are then supported by the device using a combination of navigational sensors, artificial intelligence and motors. It doesn’t operate with a pre-determined pattern of movement.

KEEOGO is designed to help people navigate their home and do household chores that they haven’t been able to do because of their mobility issues. Raking the lawn, climbing stairs, doing laundry, cooking, and many other household activities that become impossible with a person who is disabled are suddenly accessible activities again.

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Outside the home, KEEOGO assists people in being able to navigate a city without depending on someone else for assistance. It allows us to feel useful again. For people in Taipei, this device would be priceless, since Taipei is largely inaccessible to people like me. 

The idea of working with a product that will change the lives of millions of people around the world is thrilling and exciting for physicians, therapists, and patients.

Families, clinics, and hospitals will all benefit from the enormous potential of this device. Families won’t have to worry about taking their loved ones out in a wheelchair or doing all the heavy lifting required to get a wheelchair in and out of a vehicle.

The beauty of KEEOGO is that you can take it anywhere, and if your KEEOGO needs adjustment or maintenance, there is a team trained to support you and get you moving again.

Being able to walk upright allows us to move and work again. It’s almost like returning to the land of the living. It was a return to normalcy for me.

User Experience: What does it feel like to use KEEOGO? What does a robotic exoskeleton feel like? 

KEEOGO is composed of two orthotic structures (one for each leg), each including a motorized knee joint and a free hip joint, plus a detachable utility belt. The orthotic device is connected via the belt and a permanently attached glute support.

A control unit is provided for turning the system ON and OFF, as well as choosing your desired level of powered assistance. The battery is detachable and rechargeable using the charger provided.

After months of being bed bound or being in excruciating pain from being on my feet and legs, KEEOGO allowed me to do some things that I haven’t been able to do in years.

Every step I have taken since 2014 has been like putting my full weight on glass in bare feet. I was worried how much the weight of the dermoskeleton would affect that.

A measly 15 pounds doesn’t seem like much, but when you have a brittle spine disease and can’t pick up anything heavier than your cat, you start to really think about weight and how it will hit your body.

Would walking in this device worsen my leg pain? Would it make my feet go purple?

To my utter delight, my first step with KEEOGO was like falling into a dream. My KEEOGO team assured me all would be well. When you lean forward, the device takes off most of the weight load. I leaned forward and shifted into a new world.

It was the first step I had taken in years that didn’t cause pain. KEEOGO took over for me. As I moved forward, the sensors, advanced artificial intelligence software system, and motor kicked in where I needed support and it took all the weight off my legs and feet. I was walking pain-free!

Then I started jogging. I haven’t been able to run since May 2012 and here I was jogging around in this room with the trainers next to me. I don’t know how they felt about seeing me with a big smile on my face, but they watched me take my first pain-free steps using their device. I hope they felt as proud and as happy as I did.

Squats and lunges were easy. My robotic legs effortlessly lifted me up and down and kept me steady.

Then we tried some stairs. Stairs are torture for me. I avoid them as much as possible, but with KEEOGO, I was surprised to find myself moving up those stairs quickly and easily, while my new robotic legs took all the weight off my legs for descending. It was magic!

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It also seeks to minimize fatigue and prevent damage to parts of the body that are injury prone. After one hour in KEEOGO, I felt invincible!

For new users, be forewarned that in the beginning wearing a dermoskeleton like KEEOGO takes time to get used to. Being on my feet with the device during my session was reflected back at me the next day. My hips and lower back felt sore, but the discomfort of wearing the device was nothing compared to the pain and stress my own body puts me through on a daily basis.

If I had to relate this discomfort to anything, it would be comparable to the pain of breaking in a new pair of shoes. Wearing the tech for short periods of time until you’ve built up your endurance to wear it day to day helps immensely.

KEEOGO opens up all kinds of access for users, and allows for a better quality of life and more independence. Many people beyond the disabled and elderly people could use this technology, thus the potential user list is endless. Those of us in wheelchairs are anxious to break out of our wheelchairs because it often defines how others interact with you on a day to day basis.

Just being able to walk with people will change how they react to you.

Cool KEEOGO Features

Exoskeletons provide a framework of powered support that can assist the user in rehabilitation simply by putting them on their legs again. It also allows the user to use strength that they never had before.

I can imagine that the developers will work on the sound the robotic legs make, but I rather liked sounding like Iron Man!

KEEOGO allows users to sit down in their legs. Your robotic legs become a chair by locking into place. I love this idea for so many reasons. I could go to a concert or the park and not have to worry about sitting down because my robotic legs provide an instant chair.

Features to Work On

After my trial experience, I could only think of two features that could be improved upon.

The powered ‘snap’ back on robotic legs could potentially be problematic for users with osteoporosis, which is why it is imperative to work with professionals trained on KEEOGO to ensure the dermoskeleton fits properly.

A limited power supply means that users would have to ensure their KEEOGO is powered up for use. The batteries have a long life, but they don’t last forever.

Obviously, people will ask about price and it is my hope that the government assistive device programs and insurance companies will see the benefits and value of people being able to use these innovative devices to be active and fully engaged in the community, go back to work and back to living a full life with autonomy.

KEEOGO will directly impact lives, communities and workplaces by helping individuals with mobility challenges get around safely and independently.

Changing The Future

Exoskeletons will allow users to have freedom and they provide an overall physical sense of well-being. In short, exoskeletons provide freedom and many of us are moved to tears once we’ve tried it and realized that wearing this technology will give us our life back.

Robotic exoskeletons are the way of the future and I have no doubt they will change lives in many surprising ways.

Robotic exoskeletons as disability aids
KEEOGO – What a robotic exoskeleton can do for mobility compromised patients. This is a review of my experience with KEEOGO – from wheelchair to walking, jogging, squatting, and more. This is a game changer for those of us who rely on mobility aids to get around.
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Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian expat who has been living abroad in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. My husband and I have owned our own business in Taiwan since 2012. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to several publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. Follow Carrie on on Twitter @globetrotteri or on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/carriekellenberger/.

11 thoughts on “Mobility Challenges and What An Exoskeleton Can Do For You

    micki hogan

    (June 18, 2018 - 9:41 am)

    What an captivating and lucky experience to ave been a part of history in the making. I am so glad I checked out this entry. So many great patients out there and this brings them hope.

    The way AS affects the hips is something many don’t focus on but I hear more and more about it as the years have been progessing.

    We are grateful for his remission but this winter was hell. Emotionally weve been pushed to the edge,,,I think we all have.

    Be sure to check in soon my friend. I believe you will conquer things you thought you had to give up…..I believe in you

    That exoskeleton Is wicked kewl. I love the robot named Sophia,,she is to cool!

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (August 5, 2018 - 12:59 pm)

      It truly was an amazing experience and I get to go back again and help answer questions for improvements. I just need to make sure that I have enough strength that day to get through the next test. It gives you a little bit of a workout since it’s engaging with your core to keep you moving forward, so I only do an hour or two at a time before I stop. New users build up their time in Keeogo slowly. But once you’re accustomed to it, you get FREEDOM. Pretty amazing tech.

        Angie Willard

        (October 28, 2018 - 2:22 am)

        This is an incredible article. I was forwarded this by a friend. I am very interested in exoskeleton and would like to follow you…Thank you for sharing and never give up. Your story was inspiring. I also have a mysterious neurological disease (genetic) that has impaired my mobility. Very thankful that I don’t have pain, but I would love the possibility of an exoskeleton….I would like to learn as much about as I can.

    Claire

    (June 5, 2020 - 8:48 pm)

    This just shows how amazing technology can be for those with chronic illness. I love how happy you look in the photo!

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (June 6, 2020 - 2:53 pm)

      Hi Claire! It is pretty amazing! They’ve come out with a new prototype and have invited me back, but I haven’t had much energy lately and you need to have a little gas in your tank in order to use one of these. It still gives a good workout. For people like me with complications like MECFS, it’s really easy to overdo things. Just like breaking in a new shoe, I’d have to start small and work up to longer sessions with this, but I’m also assuming the tech is going to get better and more lightweight. I’m waiting for the model that locks in place and lets you ‘sit’ on your robotic legs. That would open up a whole new world of opportunities for me. 🙂 Hugs!

    Shruti Chopra

    (June 5, 2020 - 8:57 pm)

    Seeing you go up and down a flight of stairs and that joy – I felt it. I got so excited at such a possibility. I have seen many random videos on this, but never seen someone with a chronic condition try it out. I’ve always been curious about these things – made me so happy for you to try it out.

    Do you think these things will really become a common reality for people who do have such struggles.? I know if they were readily available, i would happily save up to get one of these , but I don’t know if they will really ever be available. Maybe I’m being cynical but when you spent time with the people making it, did it really feel like it would be made mainstream?

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (June 6, 2020 - 2:58 pm)

      Hi Shruti!

      This is actually similar to the exoskeleton model used by soldiers, but it has been adapted for seniors and those of us with mobility issues. I used to be very athletic and I remember each date that I had to stop – my last run, my last dance class, my last Zumba class. To be able to squat and lunge and power up and down stairs – I never thought I’d ever experience that again without pain. It was really amazing!

      In Canada, they are available for purchase and through health insurance. You can also rent one for any period of time. It’s the same here in Taiwan. The team that was working with me that day has invited me back many times to try it out in their ‘robotic’ playground where I can use it in a controlled space where they can observe and work out any issues that might crop up. I do think it will become more mainstream and the folks I was with that day said the price will go down as it becomes more available. Their aim is to make it accessible to anyone who needs it. Right now I like the idea of renting one for a bit because I was really sore afterwards. Carrying that weight on my hips was tough with a spinal disease. They’ve offered to lend it to me for a week. I’m just waiting to get some strength back before I attempt that, and if it works well for me, I’d invest. (I want the model that comes with locking legs so I can sit in it. It’s easy to blow by my limitations in this, so having that option is key for me.)

    Katie Clark

    (June 7, 2020 - 9:08 pm)

    Wow, Carrie! I had seen the photo of you wearing this, but watching this video made my heart catch. I could cry. Would you (or someone who decides to use this) work with PT so gradually move up in strength? Is that a reality for you? Your reaction of joy and surprise is so genuine. Thank you to those who are continually pushing the envelope to make lives better for those with chronic illness and disabilities. (That means you for trying it and these health scientists/engineers.) Just amazing!

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (June 8, 2020 - 5:05 pm)

      Hi Katie! Yes, anyone who decides to use this would use it under supervision first. The team that is walking with me is monitoring my output and has set it properly for my height and body weight. I’m amazed it helps with core strength and could tell it was working the next day. It really is an amazing piece of technology! And yes, that day was full of joy!

    Mairead

    (October 8, 2020 - 4:44 pm)

    Wow this is amazing! So glad you got to give it a try, I just hope that this kind of device will become widely accessible to people who will benefit in the near future. It really looks incredible, what a fantastic experience. Hope you have the energy to go back for another go soon!

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (October 9, 2020 - 2:38 pm)

      It was very cool and it has just been approved for use in Taiwan as well. I’m hoping I can try again soon, but there are some unresolved health issues we need to take care of first. (Aren’t there always?)

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