Austin Whitney, a 22-year-old student, was able to walk on his graduation day at UC Berkeley. Why is that surprising? Because Whitney is paralysed from the waist down and needed an exoskeleton to make those seven steps.
It’s a heartwarming story of a boy who learned his lesson and remained committed to his goal. Before college, Whitney, after having a few drinks, stepped into his car and then crashed into a tree. The car crash broke Whitney’s spine above his hips, paralysing himself and stayed in the hospital for 41 days. In his own words, he was “broken down”.
But Whitney strengthened himself and wanted to continue on with his life, go to university and walk on his graduation day. After he transferred to UC Berkeley, a team of UC Berkeley mechanical engineers had already been working on an exoskeleton for years. They heard about Whitney’s story and began working on a no frills walking machine that was more affordable ($US15,000) than their previous projects ($US90,000).
Whitney gave the team feedback: the machine’s feet needed to be flatter, the height should be adjustable and hand controls should have locks, while the team created a computer system that would let the exoskeleton know when Whitney wanted to walk. After Whitney made those steps to accept his diploma he said:
“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,” Whitney said in anticipation of his momentous day. “It will be surreal, like a dream.”
The engineering team believes that the exoskeleton can improve the lives of many. I think so too. [SF Gate]