Maintaining a consistent public message of what modern exoskeleton technology can and can’t do in the media is a tricky business. Present exoskeleton capabilities in a methodical and conservative fashion and you risk not generating any interest or excitement. Exaggerate or oversell the current capabilities of exoskeleton technology and you may disappoint or even alienate people once they do more research on the subject. In this past two weeks, there were two news segments with exactly the same subject: owning a ReWalk exoskeleton for personal use. One news channel presented the FDA-approved ReWalk, as an exoskeleton device that with a lot of help, can make a person walk from point A to B. In contrast, another news channel sells the ReWalk as a completely refined machine that can turn disabled people into super humans or at least Robocop.
Compare the presentation style in these two news articles:
In Paralyzed teen buys his own exoskeleton by Ed Yeates, March 5th, 2015, KSL Broadcasting Salt Lake City UT, the author presents a touching story of a teenager that was left paralyzed but his extended family chipped in to purchase a ReWalk exoskeleton for personal use. The author continues further though in his article and lists out some major technological limitations:
- cost of $65,000+
- user certification, upper body strength and years of rehabilitation
- training, for example how to recover from a fall
- assistant certification, both parents had to be trained in the use of the exoskeleton
- supervision required at all times while the exoskeleton device is in use
In complete contrast, ‘Robocop’ Corrales officer wants to run for Guadalupe Co. sheriff by Ryan Luby, Feb 27th, 2015, KOB-TV, New Mexico tells the story of a courageous law officer that crashes during a car chase and loses use of both legs. The officer then acquires a ReWalk exoskeleton and now wants to run for Sheriff as America’s first Robocop! While the author mentions the cost of the exoskeleton and the requirements for therapy and upper body strength, there isn’t any information on the limitations of the exoskeleton device. A person reading the article can be easily left with the impression that the available exoskeletons do not require supervision, can be used to chase down a criminal and can be operated in various outdoor conditions like heavy rain.
The above is an example of overselling the current exoskeleton technology and making the general public expect much more than is possible out of this fledging industry. Viewers of the first report can be inspired that with a lot of money, work and support from family a paralyzed teenager can move without the use of a wheelchair. Readers who have seen the second report will be left disappointed once they learn more about the ReWalk product and possibly left confused when they encounter other media presenting the acute need for more investments and research into exoskeletons.
Note: This article applies only to the written articles provided by mentioned news channels and not the aired TV reports which differ significantly.