Can you imagine a future in which paralyzed people can get up and compete just like Olympic race walkers? What if that future is closer than we think, dares to dream, I GOT LEGS, an organization dedicated to creating and promoting powered exoskeleton walking competitions.
The Global Innovation Challenge, CYBATHLON Exoskeleton Race, and the Exo Games are competitive events that aim to bring researchers and developers face-to-face with the challenges of everyday living or other similar tasks. In contrast, I GOT LEGS has the goal of creating a brand new Paralympic sports discipline.
The next in-person and virtual race are both happening in just a few weeks, on April 29, 2023. It is not too late to register for either the 1-mile or 5-km events. Just go to: https://www.igotlegs.org/virtual5k. This exoskeleton race will take place on the second day of the Palmetto games at Clemson University Track and Field (Clemson, SC). The wearable robotics (bionics) race will join other better-established adaptive sports like air rifles, swimming, and archery. Two teams, A Soldier Strong and I GOT LEGS, are already signed up!
Funds raised from the Virtual Race are meant to create future training programs, organize the next competitions, and build a community around this potential new sport for people with walking disabilities.
The ultimate goal of the Exoskeleton Racing League (ERL) is to build enough support and data to create a new Paralympic sport “designed to empower individuals with paralysis to stand, walk, and race using cutting-edge exoskeleton technology.”
“When I am standing and walking in my robotic exoskeleton, I do not feel disabled, nor do I feel able-bodied; I feel ReEnabled,” Adam Gorlitsky, Founder of I GOT LEGS. Adam has completed multiple marathons over the last six years using his ReWalk Robotics powered exoskeleton.
I GOT LEGS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization “dedicated to ReEnabling the paralysis community to walk again,” with stated vision and goals to:
- Turn Exoskeleton Racing into a Paralympic + collegiate adaptive sport.
- Use the sport of Exoskeleton Racing as a catalyst to increase access to exoskeleton technology.
- Use the sport of Exoskeleton Racing as a catalyst to advance breakthrough paralysis research.
The I GOT LEGS website correctly reminds its visitors that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not specifically prohibited the use of powered exoskeletons for sport or recreational activities, but it has not approved them for these purposes either, so using the device in this manner is considered “off-label” (see: Intended Use of the 11 FDA-Approved Medical Exoskeletons in 2023). The race organizers correctly state that current powered walking assist exoskeletons should be used in conjunction with a qualified health professional and/or certified walking partner.
For more information, visit the main website: https://www.igotlegs.org or the I GOT LEGS YouTube Channel.
In addition to some of the challenges stated above, this technology remains prohibitively expensive, and few people can own a home-use exo capable of participating in a race. Furthermore, by pushing themselves to go faster, participants are at risk of both fractures and skin abrasions (most, if not all, of the users don’t have tactile feeling in their legs and won’t know if there is a joint misalignment or other problem occurring). Most gait-assist powered exoskeletons also require significant arm and core strength. This is why an organization like I GOT LEGS could be the key to accumulating enough data and information to develop a process that makes bionic races safe, fun, and beneficial to their participants and all of humankind.