A California robotics company is about to launch a high-tech knee brace that can alleviate the suffering of millions of Americans facing knee osteoarthritis. It can be especially appealing to patients who want to avoid knee replacement surgery.
San Francisco-based Roam Robotics said its $ 7,000 Ascend orthosis should begin shipping this winter. Certified by the FDA as a Class 1 medical device, Roam provides for reimbursement for both Medicare and private insurance. Medicare could cover 50% or more, and private insurance could cover the entire cost in some cases, Roam says.
Roam Robotics CEO Tim Swift
Roam is located in San Francisco’s Mission district, across the street from Oltrelab, an engineering company that has awarded tens of millions of dollars in government research contracts, primarily for robotics and energy projects. Roam is one of several emerging companies emerging from Altrelab. Its founder and CEO Tim Swift is a veteran of Ekso Bionics, a pioneer in the field of the exoskeleton. After working on heavy, super-expensive exoskeletons, Swift concluded that a radical move away from conventional designs was needed if exoskeleton technology became accessible and affordable.
“Our goal is not to build cyborgs. It’s to make people more human than they ever were.”
“I think we have the ability to change the relationship that people have with robots on a scale that has never been considered before,” Swift says. “I don’t want people to see robots as something beyond human beings. Our goal is not to build cyborgs. It’s about making people more humane than they ever were. ”
Ascend is made of lightweight carbon fiber and high-strength fabric. The pneumatically powered device is connected to a rechargeable battery that is carried in the backpack. Custom knee arm sensors provide real-time data to Ascend microprocessors, where proprietary algorithms detect the user’s intent and then extend and flex the knee. Ideally, this relieves pain and increases patients ’ability to navigate stairs and master simple daily activities.
Rowan Paul, a sports medicine doctor who has consulted with Ascend, says he may like those who are reluctant to use a cane because of the stigma of disability it entails. Knee strengthening makes them look like an athlete with an injury, he says. Ascend can also reduce or eliminate the need for opioid pain medications or cortisone injections, which offer temporary relief from osteoarthritis, but are at risk for side effects.
“I’ve seen several patients, where if we can just give them a little help in a very specific and precise way, they don’t need to do a knee replacement,” Paul says.
Roam market research places the number of patients living with severe pain and limited mobility due to knee osteoarthritis at 10 million or more.
The company has opened a storefront in San Francisco where patients can try Ascend driving. Reid Weaver came down from Tacoma, Washington, in June to try one and it was sold with the product. “It’s so comfortable and so light, that you don’t even feel like it’s there,” says Weaver, who spent 19 years as a SWAT police officer in Washington state and now works as a court officer protecting the judges of Tacoma.
The weaver had surgery on his legs after a hiking accident, but surgery exacerbated his osteoarthritis. Weaver, 60, is an avid outdoor enthusiast who played football in college and manages to ride a motorcycle to work. With the Ascend knee put on, Weaver finds that he can go up and down the stairs with ease and was surprised that it was no longer a struggle to get up from a chair, a challenge for many with osteoarthritis in the knees.
“That was a lot more powerful than I thought it would be,” Weaver says. “It basically got me out of the sitting position without using my hands, without moving forward. I think it will change the game.
Angelique Newman-Malone, 52, of San Jose, California, says she felt trapped in her own body from osteoarthritis. After coming across an Ascend ad on Facebook, Newman-Malone wore his knee on several occasions and declared it a gift from God.
“I felt like someone was supporting me, like a partner walking beside me,” he says. “That feeling is amazing.”
But the best advantage for Newman-Malone is that the knee strap allows him to kneel and then stand up. A devoutly religious Christian, she said the ability to kneel when praying is key.