Seemingly simple things like talking to people at eye level and reaching things on shelves can be a huge drawback for those in wheelchairs. Sitting in a wheelchair for extended periods can also lead to the increased risk of certain infections and blood circulation problems. A robotic exoskeleton called REX puts wheelchair users back on their feet, enabling a person to stand, walk and go up and down stairs and slopes.
Since that’s where the money is, the he main focus of robotic exoskeletons has generally been in seeking to increase the capabilities of military ground personnel – one example being the HULC powered robotic exoskeleton from Lockheed Martin. When Robert Irving was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis it was the catalyst for him and his childhood friend, Richard Little, to put turn their engineering skills to the task of developing an exoskeleton that was a practical standing and walking alternative to wheelchairs.
The result is REX, an exoskeleton made of strong, lightweight materials that is designed to support and hold a person comfortably as they move. Users strap themselves in to the robotic legs with a number of Velcro and buckled straps that fit around the legs along with a belt that fits around the user’s waist. While most robotic exoskeletons we’ve looked at, such as the HAL, augment human motion, this is generally not an option for wheelchair-bound users so REX is controlled using a joystick that sits at the wearer’s waist level.
When wearing REX users can stand up, walk, move sideways, turn around, go up and down steps, as well as walk on flat, hard surfaces including ramps and slopes. It is powered by a custom-made rechargeable battery that will typically provide two hours of active use on a full charge. To extend running time the battery can be easily swapped out for a fully charged one.
Little and Irving formed a company called Rex Biotics which produces the REX in Auckland, New Zealand. The company is in the process of concluding all the tests required prior to putting REX on the market in Europe and Australia. It will also be seeking FDA approval so that REX can be put on the market in the USA.
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- British researchers create world’s first robotic legs (telegraph.co.uk)