Graduating amongst a mass crowd of his peers, 22-year-old Austin Whitney was told he would be unable to regain the use of his legs following a drunk driving-related road accident in 2007. The device was devised and put together by the robotics and human engineering team on campus leading up to the graduation. The ‘Austin’ is part of a number of similar exoskeleton system projects the laboratory are researching.
We have a bold mission: to explore a set of basic technologies that lead to reliable, inexpensive exoskeleton systems for everyday personal use. The notion of limiting people to wheelchairs, crutches or expensive exoskeleton systems is completely unacceptable with the existing state of technology.
“Built with many off-the-shelf parts, these exoskeleton systems have a limited range of motions. They allow users to stand, walk forward, stop and sit. We believe those few simple maneuvers will be game-changing. What is important to millions of people is to be upright, mobile and independent through accessible technology,” Kazerooni says.
These powered human exoskeletons would allow their wearers to walk upright without the strain and muscular effort required by today’s unpowered orthotic devices. We argue that these “smart exoskeletons” could replace wheelchairs for many patients for hours at a time, enabling patients who cannot now walk to regain a degree of walking mobility, and to retard the onset of a wide range of secondary disabilities associated with the long-term use of wheelchairs.
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