July 16, 2010

Robotic Legs Help Paraplegics Walk Again

Two New Zealand inventors have produced the world's first robotic legs to help paraplegics walk again.

The bionic legs were road-tested publicly for the first time Thursday by 23-year-old Hayden Allen who was told five years ago that he would never walk again after a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed from the chest down.

Allen said the experience of being able to stand up and walk with the robotic legs was fantastic and he felt like a normal human being again.

"It will be a big benefit from a social aspect, being able to talk to someone at the same eye level," he told reporters.

Engineers Richard Little and Robert Living, the inventors of the legs, came up with the idea seven years ago and spent $7.1 million developing it.

The 84-pound joy-stick operated legs, known as "Rex", was inspired by the movie "Aliens" in which the character Ripley climbs into a robotic exoskeleton to fight an alien.

Rex is "a realistic standing and walking alternative to wheelchairs," the inventors said on their website Rexbionics.com.

"It enables the user to climb up and down stairs, sit, stand, and step backwards, sideways and forwards -- providing the opportunity for people in wheelchairs who want to walk, to do just that."

Rex is priced at $150,000 and is currently only available in New Zealand.  However, the inventors said it would be internationally next year.

Rex Bionics believes demand will be stronger than supply for the next few years and they have already had enquiries suggesting people will pay up to $250,000 for the legs.