Exoskeleton Technology Helps Paraplegic Student Walk Again
By Elizabeth Fish
Here at GeekTech, there’s been a few advancements in technology to allow those with physical impediments have an improved life, even small things like single mechanical fingers. However, the Austin exoskeleton legs have to truly be the most incredible yet, for their ability to let the wheelchair bound walk again.
The exoskeleton legs were developed by Professor of Mechanical Engineering Homayoon Kazerooni and a team of students at the University of California, Berkeley. What made the project even more important was a desire to help fellow student Austin Whitney–who lost the use of his legs after an accident in 2007–walk at his own graduation. It also inspired the name of the first prototype of the project.
The legs, which took around a year to produce, are essentially a lightweight mechanical brace that can be strapped to a person, with the power kept in a small backpack. Powered by batteries, the motors in each joint are controlled by sensors, actuators, and computer chips to propel the frame forward. It is also uses low power parts, making it cheaper and easier for home use — one charge can last 4-8 hours.
Although exoskeleton body frames already exist, they cost in the region of $10,000, so the Austin exoskeleton legs are designed to be more affordable and aim to just get paraplegics upright and moving. The Austin exoskeleton can’t get people walking backwards or climbing ladders like the others on the market, for instance but will let you walk, sit down, stand and stop.
Check out the video below of one of Homayoon’s team explaining how the Austin exoskeleton works:
And just yesterday (May 14), Austin walked–walked–across the stage to receive his diploma. Here’s the video:
You can find out more about Austin’s story and the history behind the exoskeletons Homayoon has developed on the UC Berkeley website.