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Exoskeleton -

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NARRATION

Every minute, every day, people are robbed of their independence by spinal injuries and crippling
disabilities.

Mark Horstman

For people who can't walk and need mobility, a wheelchair is as good as it gets.

NARRATION

But for many, that's just not good enough. Upgrading paralysed limbs with a wearable robot was once
a sci-fi dream. Now it's a reality.

Mark Horstman

I'm about to meet an engineer who designs technology so he can walk with his head held high.

NARRATION

Six years ago, Jarard Pearce broke his back in a car accident. He's wearing a robotic exoskeleton,
or Rex for short. And before too much longer, he plans to leave his wheelchair behind.

Mark Horstman

Jarard, how are you?

Jarard Pearce

How are you going? Good.

Mark Horstman

Good to see you. How's your turning circle?

Jarard Pearce

Good.

NARRATION

As a T4 paraplegic, Jarard has full use of his arms, but his lower body and legs are paralysed.

Mark Horstman

And how does that feel for you? Does it feel like you're upright and stable and ...

Jarard Pearce

Oh yeah, I love it, yeah. Beats being in a wheelchair.

NARRATION

Bernice first met Jared after his accident, when he relied totally on a wheelchair.

Bernice Fleming

Do your little twist move, your little dance move (LAUGHS).

Mark Horstman

And how did that change when he started using the exoskeleton?

Bernice Fleming

Oh, it was amazing, being able to be face to face with him, and ... actually the first thing I did
was I ran up to him and gave him a hug, because we'd never been able to hug standing up. And um,
that was just amazing to be able to do that.

Mark Horstman

Was he taller than you thought?

Bernice Fleming

Yeah, very much taller. I like to wear heels generally when he's in his legs.

NARRATION

Jarard has the exoskeleton on loan, but even when he returns it, it's never far away.

This is the workshop of Rex Bionics in Auckland, New Zealand. Jarard works here as a production
engineer, building and testing robotic exoskeletons.

Jarard Pearce

I said to all my friends, 'Watch me, I'll walk before I'm thirty.' And then I think I got into the
machine about six months before my thirtieth birthday, and went back to my friends, 'I've done it,
I've walked.' Like I said I would. I didn't know It would be using a device.

NARRATION

Richard Little is one of the inventors. Nine years ago, he founded Rex Bionics, his motivation also
deeply personal.

Richard Little

We originally started this for somebody with MS, somebody with multiple sclerosis. It looks bulky
and ugly.

Man

Yeah.

Richard Little

Rex isn't just for people with spinal cord injuries. It's for people with other mobility
impairments. So we don't discriminate by illness or injury or condition.

NARRATION

In several countries, other types of robotic limbs have been developed to assist mobility. They all
require the user to balance with crutches. And that's where Rex is different from the rest. It's
for those who can't stand up themselves.

Richard Little

We have to hold the user upright in Rex, support them, not allow too much weight to go through
their own feet, but allow enough to go through that they get the benefits of the standing and
walking.

NARRATION

To build the world's first hands-free, self-supporting exoskeleton has meant starting from scratch.
The robotic system recreates a safe and gentle walking motion that most of us take for granted.

Jarard Pearce

We see a lot of people watching people walk around and study the walk, and how we actually
physically do that, and putting that into motion in the machine. This is one of the menus that
we've changed here.

NARRATION

Without nerve or muscle impulses in their legs to drive the machine, users control it with a
joystick.

Richard Little

It's a pre-programmed walk when it's sitting there on the flat, if you like, but it actually then
senses the ground underneath it as well. So it's sort of somewhere in between being pre-programmed
and not knowing anything about where it's walking.

NARRATION

Dozens of micro-processors and a hundred sensors are co-ordinated by a central computer brain in
the back. Even if it breaks down or the battery runs flat, Rex is designed to stay upright.

Richard Little

You can see that Rex is perfectly well balanced.

Mark Horstman

Sure.

Richard Little

Even with all my weight on the wrong side of the machine.

NARRATION

The mechanical system has to be light enough to be battery powered, yet strong enough to carry a
person and all the loads that involves.

Mark Horstman

I dare say that as I push this button, ah, my brain is going to be competing with this machine for
control of my muscles. You actually feel like you're ... to really surrender to the machine, you've
got to let your body just sort of fall. Which I guess we normally compensate for when we're walking
ourselves, but in this case, you've got to let the machine do it for you.

NARRATION

Next to the experts in wearing a robot, I'm a very clumsy walker. Fear! Oh there's an emergency
stop button. Lucky, where's that?

Man

The red one.

Mark Horstman

The red one.

Man

Red button, yeah.

Mark Horstman

Cool. Thanks guys.

NARRATION

With a price tag of more than a hundred thousand dollars, Rex is still out of reach for most. Work
continues to make the exoskeleton cheaper, lighter and faster. More than mobility, it offers a
better quality of life.

Jarard Pearce

The value of walking, the value of standing up, family and friends seeing me in the light I used to
be in, and health benefits and pain relief ... there's just so much in it that you can't put a value
on it.

Mark Horstman

Priceless?

Jarard Pearce

Yeah, priceless.