On Saturday May 14th, UC Berkeley senior Austin Whitney, was able to do something he would have never thought possible - Walk up to the Chancellor to receive his diploma. While the few steps may not seem like a big deal, it was nothing short of a miracle, for this 22-year old student, who is paralyzed from the waist down.
The miracle walk was not a gift from the heavens, but the result of years of hard work performed by a team of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. Led by Homayoon Kazerooni, the team first unveiled this exoskeleton, now dubbed 'Austin' in 2010. Since then, they have been working round the clock to get it ready in time for the young graduate's commencement ceremony.
Austin, who has been helping them test the robotic device that resembles leg braces, says that while he had worn and stood up with the help of the exoskeleton many time prior to this, doing it in on the stage in front of all his friends and professors was a surreal feeling, one that he will never forget.
The Berkeley exoskeleton system was originally developed to provide able-bodied people like soldiers, disaster relief workers, firemen and other emergency personnel the support to carry large loads of things like food, rescue equipment etc. for long distances, without putting too much strain on their bodies.
However, when Austin, who became paralyzed when his car crashed into a tree in 2007, came to UC Berkeley, the team began working on a modification that could also be used by paraplegics. The best part is, that when this robotic exoskeleton comes to market, it will not be as expensive as other exoskeletons like ReWalk, making it accessible to almost anybody who needs it.
Resources: endgadget.com, computerworld.com