Powered by Maxon Motor Australia ’s DC motors, Rex is a revolutionary robotic exoskeleton developed by Auckland-based company Rex Bionics to assist people who usually use a wheelchair.
The pair of robotic legs support and assist a person who usually uses a wheelchair, enabling them to stand, walk and go up and down steps and slopes.
Hayden Allen says that he’ll never forget what it was like the first time he used Rex. He became a full time wheelchair user five years ago after suffering a spinal cord injury, but using the Rex has allowed him to regain his mobility.
"People say to me, 'look up when you're walking' but I just can't stop staring down at my feet moving," he says.
Being up out of his chair and on his feet again allows Hayden many more options on a day to day basis, increasing opportunities for employment and recreational activities by providing access for him independently to go places previously inaccessible.
Rex is designed so that users can self-transfer from their wheelchair to the unit, controlling their movements using a joystick and control pad. The unit is powered by a lightweight, long life rechargeable battery.
The founders of Rex Bionics, Richard Little and Robert Irving were driven to develop the technology when Robert was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis seven years ago.
With both having mothers in wheelchairs, the childhood friends were aware of some of the obstacles and access issues faced by many wheelchair users, and endeavoured to put their engineering skills to use to design and produce a practical, standing and walking alternative.
The founders are quick to point out that Rex is not a replacement for a wheelchair, but a complement that offers a range of options not currently available anywhere else in the world. It is potentially suitable for manual wheelchair users who can self-transfer and operate hand controls.
Dr Richard Roxburgh, Auckland neurologist and medical adviser to the Muscular Dystrophy Association says, "For many of my patients Rex represents the first time they've been able to stand up and walk for years. There are obvious immediate benefits in terms of mobility, improved social interaction and self-image. There are also likely to be major long term health and quality of life benefits through reducing the complications of being in a wheelchair all the time."
Each Rex unit is built onsite at the Rex Bionics’ Auckland plant, and has been designed to be practical, lightweight, portable, safe, simple to use and sufficiently powered for a typical day of use.
Customers looking to purchase a Rex must complete a medical appraisal, including checks with their own physician, to ensure their general health and suitability before beginning the process of fitting and training on the device.
This process typically takes around two weeks with Rex Bionics' team of technicians, based at the Rex Centre in Auckland.
Rex has been thoroughly tested over the past seven years of development, including engineering validation and clinical trials with the approval of the New Zealand Ethics Committee, in conjunction with disability and rehabilitation advisors.
CEO of Rex Bionics, Jenny Morel says they expect to conclude internal testing of Rex shortly and will then have a preliminary release in Auckland to allow the company to track what happens when people take Rex home.
Sales are expected to commence in New Zealand by the end of 2010 and elsewhere in the world by the middle of 2011. Rex has been developed with the support of TechNZ and venture capital company No 8 Ventures.