REX – Enter walking

Nov 11, 2010 by

REX – Enter walking

A few weeks ago we ran an article about an exoskeleton product to help paraplegics stand and walk.  Now, through the magic of our Facebook friend community we have found another, even more impressive, exoskeleton from Rex Bionics in New Zealand and launched in July of this year.

Enter Rex, appropriately given a human name since it was born of some rather extraordinary circumstances and emotions.  Richard Little and Robert Irving (in that order in the picture at right) have been buddies since high school in Scotland. They share a love of mechanical things, both studied engineering, worked together off and on throughout their earlier careers and, in the 1990’s both decided to emigrate to New Zealand.

Both also have mothers who use wheelchairs. But it was when Robert was diagnosed with Multiple Schlerosis and faced the very real possibility of eventually being, himself, confined to a wheelchair that the buddies decided to begin working on a practical standing and walking alternative to wheelchairs.

Richard and Robert built their first prototype in secret in their garage. Their aim wasn’t to create a wheelchair replacement, but to design the first product that provided a genuine range of options never before seen by the medical community. Seven years later, working with world-class mechatronics and software engineers, they are building the Rex, a strap-on device that allows the wearer to walk, sit, stand and to climb stairs and hills. It allows a range of activities that no other product allows.

The videos below will give you an idea of how well this device works.  Hayden Allen (pictured at left) has been using his Rex for long enough to realize the benefits to many areas of his physical well-being – muscle tone, bladder function, blood circulation, reduced infections, etc. – as well as to his self-esteem, his work capabilities and social life. The Rex is only available in New Zealand at this point. Rex has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for commercial distribution in the US. There is interest, however, by the US Military as mentioned in this article in Stars and Stripes from August of this year.

Spinal cord injuries result from auto accidents, sporting accidents, military action, industrial accidents and home falls. The Rex can be used by anyone who has lost the function of his or her legs regardless of the reason. It is currently being used by one person with muscular dystrophy but is also suitable for people with multiple sclerosis,  post-polio syndrome or other diseases that damage the spinal cord. The Rex is designed to provide independence for the user. The design makes it easy to transfer one’s self to and from the device and is operated using hand controls.

As you watch the videos you will think, perhaps, that Hayden’s movements are very slow at times. As company representatives explain, the Rex can move faster than you will see in the videos. However, people who use exoskeleton devices have usually not walked for many years – sometimes they have never walked before in their lives. There are a tremendous number of muscles being trained and brain-body connections being established when someone with limited physical capability is asked to begin moving on two legs. The first consideration is always for the stability and safety of the user.

Visit the website for more information.

In this video, Hayden has been using the Rex for about four months. He uses the device at home, but also in his job as a machinist.

This is one of the first videos produced by Rex Bionics and gives a good view of how the device works, how the user gets into it, operates the joystick controls, etc.

Our sincere thanks to Caroll Houser and Kristen Lono for contributing this information