On December 14, 2007, New Yorker Robert Woo's life changed forever. He was working as an architect for the Goldman Sachs (GS) world headquarters in lower Manhattan when seven tons of steel fell from dozens of floors above him onto his trailer, crushing him. The accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. But Woo has been able to stand up, take a first step and even walk. He does it with a robotic exoskeleton from the company ReWalk (RWLK). (Check out the video above to see him in action.)
The technology is "science fiction becoming reality -- it's man and machine combined" -- at least, that's how ReWalk CEO Larry Jasinski describes it. He says the machine can walk but only with Robert directing it, giving him full independence. Robert can put it on by himself, and the suit has a small tilt sensing device to allow him to take a step. When he wants to stop, he straightens up. And he has crutches for balance and confidence.
The CEO says it took more than three years (and around $30 million) for clinical studies to prove it's safe and to secure FDA approval allowing patients to take it home. At $77,000 though, it's not cheap. Jasinksi says the Veterans Affairs administraion has decided to provide the technology for veterans based on the data, and right now for private insurance, it's a case-by-case basis in the U.S., with companies still "listening and getting educated."
Jasinksi argues the value to insurers is that it saves money down the line, reducing medication costs and future treatments. Robert says he's cut down his medications for pain and other ailments by 50%, while his internal systems like digestive and circulatory have improved. He will pay for his suit out-of-pocket -- he hasn't looked into getting his insurance to cover it yet as they have given him a hard time with wheelchairs in the past. Robert says he wants to take one home right away and is fortunate enough to be able to afford one.
ReWalk anticipates the delivery of the latest version of the suit will begin this summer.
Investors don't appear so enthusiastic. When the company went public in September the stock recieved an initial pop, but has declined from around $37 a share to about $10 a share since then. Check out the the video to see what the CEO thinks is behind that move.