Exoskeleton Helps the Immobile Walk
In July of 2007 Austin Whitney became paralyzed from the waist down due to a car crash. On May 7 of this year, he walked across the stage at his college graduation thanks to the Berkley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory (also make the eLegs robotic exoskeleton).
Known as the Austin in honor of its first test pilot, the exoskeleton system is built with many off-the-shelf parts that give the user limited range of motions; i.e., standing, walking forward, stoping and sitting. Professor Homayooon Kazerooni, founder of Berkley Bionics, believes this invention will be game-changing, as it will allow millions of people who are mobility-limited to be both mobile and more independent through the accessible technology.
How the Austin Works
There are two motors on the back of the Austin that are similar to the motor that drives a Tesla electric car. For instance, on the day of his graduation, young Whitney lifted himself out of his wheelchair and into the Austin. The device’s motors propelled him forward by driving his hip joint, transferring the energy from the machine to Whitney. The whole process is very tiring for the user, and additionally, being a paraplegic lowers one’s stamina, but with patience and continued use, the apparatus will help improve these individual’s overall health – as well as their independence.
Kazerooni and his team continue to improve the Austin in hopes that it will soon be an inexpensive exoskeleton system for everyday personal use for the patients who will find this device to be life-changing. Whitney, having just graduated from college, is helping in this process, acting as a human lab rat.
Watch a documentary on the Austin Project here: