Movie Magic

Film buff Zach Smith finds a new technology to aid people with neuromuscular disease

Zach Smith enjoys increased upper-body mobility today, thanks to X-Ar exoskeletal arms.
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Film buff Zach Smith finds a new technology to aid people with muscle disease.

by Quest Staff on April 21, 2015 - 9:11am

Quest Spring 2015

When he was 17 years old, Zach Smith, who received a diagnosis of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) at age 6, began researching technologies that could help him use his arms to do things he had trouble with, such as eating or playing Ping-Pong. As a film buff, Zach, now 21, was particularly intrigued by a product known as the X-Ar exoskeletal arm, which was based on camera-stabilization technology originally used in the movie “Rocky.” Using springs and tensioning hardware, the X-Ar allows a person to move his or her arms with less strain and pick up otherwise heavy objects. At the time, it was being used only in manufacturing.

After about a year and a half of communicating via email with the people who made the X-Ar, Zach eventually met up with them at an ergonomics convention and tried the device out for himself. The results were immediate and transformative: Zach was able to do things he normally couldn’t, such as move a glass to his mouth on his own. The X-Ar vendors, who had never anticipated their technology could be used like this, were taken aback.

“We knew at that moment that is was really going to be something special,” says Zach’s dad, Kevin.

A few months later, Zach got a hold of his own X-Ar, which in addition to helping with day-to-day activities, also allows him to do more of the things he loves, such as cooking, working on projects in his garage and his main passion, filmmaking.

“When I watch a movie I see all the little stuff that goes into it: the music cues, the way the scene was shot, and I love the cinematography part of it and seeing how it all comes together,” says Zach. “I’m now working on an updated documentary [I made] about my arms.”

With his videos, he hopes to expose the X-Ar to more people. And Zach’s future as a filmmaker is off to a great start: He has been in contact with a producer of “The Walking Dead” and hopes to visit the set in the near future.  

To see Zach’s video about the X-Ar, go to For questions about assistive technology and mobility devices, consult your local MDA clinic team’s occupational and physical therapists at (800) 572-1717 or

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