Bionic legs allow wheelchair-bound to walk

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A New Zealand company has developed the world's first robotic legs, enabling a man who'd been in a wheelchair for five years to walk again.

Rex, the Robotic Exoskeleton, allows a person to stand, walk and even go up and down steps and slopes.
"I’ll never forget what it was like to see my feet walking under me the first time I used Rex,” says Hayden Allen, who'd been told by doctors that he'd never walk again.

"People say to me, 'look up when you’re walking', but I just can’t stop staring down at my feet moving."

Users self-transfer from their wheelchair into Rex, strap themselves in and control their movements using a joystick and control pad. Rex is powered by a lightweight, long life rechargeable battery.

It's intended as a complement to a wheelchair, rather than a replacement, and is suitable for manual wheelchair users who can self-transfer and operate hand controls.

"For many of my patients Rex represents the first time they’ve been able to stand up and walk for years," says Dr Richard Roxburgh, neurologist and Medical Adviser to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

"There are obvious immediate benefits in terms of mobility, improved social interaction and self-image. There are also likely to be major long term health and quality of life benefits through reducing the complications of being in a wheelchair all the time."

Rex is expected to cost about US$150,000, a bit less in New Zealand.

Rex Bionics CEO Jenny Morel says the company expects to finish internal testing shortly, and will then have a preliminary release in Auckland to allow the company to track what happens when people take Rex home. 

Sales are expected to commence in New Zealand by the end of this year, and elsewhere in the world by the middle of 2011.

There are videos, here.