UC Berkeley's Austin Whitney has been paralyzed since July 2007 as the result of a car accident that hospitalized the 22-year-old for a total of 41 days. And now, thanks to the research project of a team of Berkeley engineers, the history and political science double-major was able to stand up out of his wheelchair and physically walk across the stage to accept his diploma at the university's May 14 graduation ceremony.
"Ask anybody in a wheelchair; ask what it would mean to once again stand and shake someone's hand while facing them at eye level," said Whitney in an interview with Berkeley's NewsCenter. "It will be surreal, like a dream."
The exoskeleton project, run by Berkeley professor of mechanical engineering Homayoon Kazerooni, focuses on user comfort and affordability as its two chief design points. Instead of, "over-engineering" the machine, as Kazerooni and his team of researchers note, they designed the exoskeleton to seamlessly work with as few components as possible. That means fewer motors to impact movement, which necessitates a smaller amount of sensors to track movement, which leads to a simpler device that costs less than the current market price of a typical exoskeleton: $100,000 on up.
MIT has found a way to lighten the burden for those in the military, at least physically. The Exoskeleton Leg Rack can take 80% of an 80 lb. load off its wearer although it will affect his/her normal walking pattern. Hugh Herr, principal investigator of the Biomechatronics Group, hopes that the device will allow soldiers to hustle without running out of breath and to carry heavier packs. He believes that about 20 years from now people will be buying leg racks instead of bike racks. We love when scientists do research for the military, knowing that eventually it will trickle down to those of us in the civilian sector, even if it takes another 20 years.
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