Thursday, December 09, 2010

Rex Bionics

Well, seeing as after alibaba's comment about Rex Bionics someone from the company left a comment too, I finally went and had a good look at the site. Excellent stuff. It's quite surprising to realize we are still in an age when the inventor(s) in a shed can make a difference:



Rex, the Robotic Exoskeleton, is primarily the invention of two men, Richard Little and Robert Irving who have been close friends since they first met at high school over 20 years ago in Fort William, Scotland.


Sharing a love for cars and tinkering with machines, the two friends left school to study engineering and went on to work together at various times and in various climates throughout their careers until they both decided to emigrate to New Zealand in the early 1990s.

With already so much in common, the two friends also had first-hand knowledge of some of the obstacles and access issues faced many wheelchair users. Both have mothers who use wheelchairs, and when Robert Irving received a diagnosis for Multiple Sclerosis himself just over seven years ago, he understood that he might also need to use a wheelchair one day.

That was when the two friends and founders of Rex Bionics decided that they would use their engineering know-how to develop a realistic standing and walking alternative to wheelchairs.



Watching this video my first thought was about how slow these robotic legs are, but then realized that it's not just about being able to walk, since there's lots of health issues involved too: blood supply, muscle movement, bladder etc. I then have to wonder about other practicalities, like battery life, but it turns out that ain't such a probem. Two hours isn't going to take you along the length of the Penine Way, but the improvements in lifestyle could be huge. Then there are things like unit cost what with these bionic legs having '4700 parts and a complicated array of software' as compared to a wheelchair (with our NHS and NICE these things must be thought about in Britain), but you cannot make comparisons like that. I don't know if these things are quite well enough developed to enable a paraplegic to go to the toilet, but I'm guessing that possibility is not far away, then just think of the overall savings to society as a whole: no more houses needing to be built with wheelchair access, no more the necessity of toilets for the disabled.

However, they need to move faster, and they need to be designed in such a way that a person can sit and take a dump while wearing them. Sorry to be crude, but that's reality. Maybe if you're still checking in, Thomas, you can tell us about this sort of stuff?

15 comments:

Jebel Krong said...

you can't take a dump in a wheelchair, y'know...

give it 10 years, the hardware will be streamlined and the cost base is only so high because they aren't mass-produced. the US military has something similar to help soldiers in testing already, the tech ain't new it just needs refinement and rapid commericalisation.

frankly it's about time that stuff like this is on the market to help the disabled etc.

Neal Asher said...

Yeah, but looking at the back plate on these legs I'm not sure if you can take a dump in them either.

Yes, about bloody time.

Neal Asher said...

Then, of course, in maybe 50 years time we'll be going into museums to look at bionic legs. The speed things are going at the moment I don't suppose repairing a spine is that far away.

Jebel Krong said...

they've done it in mice, several ways: 1. regrowing nerves with stem cells - seems most promising if they can make it reliable (and not cause cancer). number 2 i read about recently was duplicate the nerve impulses to the front feet - it works well in quadrapeds, wouldn't be so helpful to us. then of course there's the cybernetic way - connect the nerves to chips which translate the signal, it's being done in the brain for a variety of applications, i'm sure they're doing spinal research too.

Neal Asher said...

With reference to my previous comment:

http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20101208p2a00m0na002000c.html

Neal Asher said...

Hah, we posted at the same time, Jebel. Check the link - monkey's now.

Jebel Krong said...

awesome! :)

link's broken for me, oh wait - i found it:

http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20101208p2a00m0na002000c.html

very interesting - there's no reason they wouldn't become stem cells, the body's own error-correction would help with regeneration and rewiring where necessary.

Jebel Krong said...

hmm doesn't let you post full long links in comments, obviously - for anyone else interested go to the main site and search for "monkeys" and it's the first search result.

Neal Asher said...

Okay, I'll start using tinyurls in comments:
http://tinyurl.com/2g3zktj

Neal Asher said...

For those who don't know about tinyurls, go here:
http://tinyurl.com/

thatsskarwithak said...

Look up re-walk from an israeli company. The benefits aren't just the walking, but way things start working the way they used to. From what I read, being able to walk helps reduce the problems related to digestions, bowels etc.

The funny thing is, if you just threw mclaren F1 team at what these guys are doing, then the improvements would be immense, I probably want to use some of the walking software from some of the japense walking robots, since walking is quite hard.

vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

i need to get my legs to go take a dump for me. dont need to leave the drawing table all day if that's the case.

Friso said...

Maybe you've already seen this, but how about alternative solutions like this:
http://www.woot.com/Blog/ViewEntry.aspx?Id=15562

Neal Asher said...

Erm, check back five or six blog posts, Skar. Anyway, I don't know why there isn't more development here. Surely there's money in it?

Vaude, you need a robotic commode -- something scuttling around on four legs with a hole in its back.

That is cool, Friso. Doctor Octopus lives!

Rex said...

Well - that sure is a comment trail! On the subject of going to the toilet - I can tell you that the current Rex design isn't suitable for taking into the toilet. That said, our users are generally pretty self aware and will ensure they have gone to the bathroom before climbing into the exoskeleton - just as they do while preparing for other activities. It may be something that will be possible in future generations of Rex. Best wishes,
Thomas at Rex Bionics.