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.