New Zealand Paralympian buys robotic legs

Asia-Pacific, May 1 2011

Nearly a year after unveiling the world’s first robotic legs for wheelchair users, Auckland company Rex Bionics has sold it’s first pair to New Zealand paralympian.

Dave MacCalman, who sustained a spinal cord injury diving into a river while in the United States on a basketball scholarship has taken his first steps in more than 30 years by using a custom-fitted robotic exoskeleton, dubbed Rex.

“It is hard to describe what it has been like to be back on my feet again. I’m six-foot-four so it’s been amazing to experience life from that height again. I’m looking forward to taking my Rex home and being able to stand around and socialise with family and friends,” he said.

MacCalman has represented New Zealand at four Paralympics and two World Athletic Championships, wining four Gold and four Silver medals.

He got in touch with Rex Bionics after seeing the mechanic legs on the news last year and was invited to trial the device.

“I was a little bit apprehensive getting into the Rex for the first time. The first few steps required intense concentration, but it was truly exhilarating and I was buzzing at the end of the first session.

“It’s like starting out in a wheelchair; you need to find out the limits of the device so that you can use it safely. I’m known to push my limits and I intend to use my Rex to its full potential.”

MacCalman would be required to do a few more hours of training before he gets to take his “legs” home with him, but expects to be walking around his house, with the help of the technology in a few weeks.

Rex Bionics chief executive Jenny Morel said the company was “delighted to have made our first sale to such an incredible New Zealander”.

“The team has put in a significant amount of work since the launch, getting the product market-ready, fine tuning and completing testing. Now we can’t wait to see how Dave integrates Rex into his social, work and home activities.”

The mechanism took seven years and $10 million in development costs before it was ready for launch last July.

The legs were developed by Scottish-born New Zealand engineers and childhood friends, Richard Little and Robert Irving, from an idea born soon after Mr Irving was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and the possibility he would be in a wheelchair.

Mr Little said after drawing the concept on the back of a beer coaster in a Newmarket bar, the design work began in secret.

He said they were also motivated by their mothers, who were both in wheelchairs, giving them an appreciation of the mobility and access issues.

Ms Morel said at nearly $US150,000 for overseas markets, and probably slightly less in New Zealand the legs were not cheap, but they let people do things they could not do in a wheelchair.


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