Technology Review – Everybody do the Dinosaur!

Two high school friends from Scotland were inspired to create this robotic exoskeleton by their mothers who each were confined to a wheelchair.  The two men, engineers by trade, founded REX Bionics and subsequently developed REX, a standing and walking alternative to wheelchairs.  Let’s take a closer look…

REX

Overview: a robotic exoskeleton that enables you to stand, walk, move sideways, turn around and use the stairs
Intended Use: Used by private individuals who can operate a manual wheelchair, self-transfer, and operate hand controls.
Purpose:  to expand physical capability and improve quality of life
Release date: Currently available for international sales. Product based in New Zealand and anyone wishing to purchase REX legs must go there to be fitted for the product and trained for its use.
Cost: $150,000 retail purchase price.

My Take: At first glance, REX appears too large, too loud, and too dinosaur-ish to use as an everyday ambulatory device.  And while all of that is true even at second and third glance, there are definitely some positives when viewed as a rehabilitation tool.

The REX allows its user to stand upright, which has numerous therapeutic benefits.  Unlike the ReWalk, which requires its user to use forearm crutches to be mobile or stand safely, the REX enables one to stand while using his or her hands to perform other functional tasks.  With other robotic exoskeletons, you have to wonder how safe someone would be walking any distance without extra support, but you don’t get that feeling with REX – it seems VERY stable.  Lastly, the REX does provide a means of walking for its user, albeit at a crawling pace, and only on hard, even surfaces.

I would like to have seen a more realistic gait pattern, including at least some knee flexion.  Instead, the REX legs use a hip hiking strategy – exactly the type of thing we try to prevent when doing gait training.  Also, the legs are controlled purely by remote control, with no option for any movement to be initiated by the user’s lower extremity.  So if you are looking for something to help improve or even initiate muscle contraction in your lower extremities, the REX is not your best bet.

Overall, the REX robotic exoskeleton provides a safe device for a user to perform functional tasks in standing, negotiate steps and slopes, and be mobile without a wheelchair.  Unfortunately, its hefty price tag of $150,000 and limited walking capabilities make the REX a tough sell.

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