A New Zealand company has invented a pair of bionic legs that allows a paraplegic to walk again. Rex, the Robotic Exoskeleton, is the brainchild of Auckland inventors Richard Little and Robert Irving, both who have mothers who use wheelchairs. Irving also found out seven years ago that he has Multiple Sclerosis, a nerve disease that can cause partial or complete loss of the muscles.
In the five-minute video, we see Hayden Allen, who lost use of his legs due to a spinal cord, transfer himself from his manual wheelchair into the Rex suit. We watch Allen stand, walk and even climb steps, though Allen looks perfectly happy just standing still after five years of mostly sitting in a chair.
“I’ll never forget what it was like to see my feet walking under me the first time I used Rex,” Hayden says in the video. “People say to me, ‘look up when you’re walking’ but I just can’t stop staring down at my feet moving.”
Being able to stand up also has long-term health and quality of life benefits, too. For example, long-term wheelchair users are prone to infections similar to bedsores that can be life-threatening if not properly treated. Rex users will need to have upper arm control or assistance with transferring into the device, and enough hand control to operate the joystick that controls Rex. They’ll also need to be in good physical health and get the OK from a physician to use the Rex.
The inventors say Rex is not a replacement for a wheelchair, but a complement that offers a range of options not currently available anywhere else in the world. Other inventors have come up with similar gadgets. In 2008 Japanese researchers unveiled a robotic suit that reads brain signals and helps partially paralyzed and elderly people walk. The suit, known as HAL — short for “hybrid assistive limb” — is available to rent in Japan for $2,200 a month. Researchers at MIT are working on similar robotic suits that increase mobility and lighten the burden for soldiers and others who carry heavy packs and equipment.
According to Newslite TV, each Rex will cost approximately $US150,000 and is expected to be available for purchase in New Zealand by the end of the year and in other countries by the middle of 2011.