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Robotic Exoskeleton Helps Paralyzed College Student Walk Across the Stage at Graduation


Exoskeletons are valuable for several reasons — they can help military personnel carry a heavier load, and they can be used all in the name of fun. But this one might be the best use of all: A 22-year-old paraplegic college graduate, paralyzed since a 2007 car crash, used an exoskeleton to walk across the stage Saturday to receive his diploma.

Austin Whitney, a history and political science major at the University of California-Berkeley, spent nine months working with Homayoon Kazerooni, creator of the HULC exoskeleton and the eLegs rehabilitation system.
Whitney used a controller switch on a walker to direct the exoskeleton, which was strapped around his legs. It swung his legs forward, moving him toward Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and a grinning Kazerooni.

The exoskeleton was a stripped-down, basic version of previous walking machines Kazerooni has designed. It will cost about $15,000, roughly the same as a souped-up motorized wheelchair, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. By contrast, the eLegs system unveiled last fall will cost about $90,000. Like the eLegs, it requires the use of a power pack and a crutch or walker. Whitney controlled the system using a switch on the walker, enabling him to take a step, stand up or sit down.

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