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The REX Robotic Exoskeleton

kdawson posted more than 2 years ago | from the walk-like-a-man dept.

Robotics 53

ElectricSteve writes "When Robert Irving was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, it was the catalyst for him and his childhood friend, Richard Little, to turn their engineering skills to the task of developing an exoskeleton that was a practical, standing-and-walking alternative to wheelchairs. The result is REX, an exoskeleton made of strong, lightweight materials that is designed to support and hold a person comfortably as he moves. Users strap themselves in to the robotic legs with a number of Velcro and buckled straps that fit around the legs, along with a belt around the waist. While most robotic exoskeletons we've looked at, such as the HAL, augment human motion, this is generally not an option for wheelchair-bound users, so REX is controlled using a joystick that sits at the wearer's waist level." The rig is expected to cost $150K when introduced later this year in New Zealand. Gizmag has an obnoxious timed popover subscription nag, so NoScript is indicated.

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53 comments

On DIGG 3 hours ago (0, Offtopic)

zoomshorts (137587) | more than 2 years ago | (#32927436)

This is old 'news' , why not let DIGG feed directly to Slashdot to avoid
unnecessary delays?????

At some point we'll see direct neural interfaces (3, Interesting)

idontgno (624372) | more than 2 years ago | (#32927470)

Which I thought was the coolest tech in William Gibson's short story "The Winter Market [wikipedia.org]", even if it wasn't the central point of the story. The phrase "The exoskeleton walked her across the floor" kind of freaked me out when I read that story as a teen.

Racing motorbikes (1)

tom17 (659054) | more than 2 years ago | (#32927526)

I'm curious, does anyone know how he manages to race motorbikes?

Re:Racing motorbikes (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 3 years ago | (#32937174)

I'm curious, does anyone know how he manages to race motorbikes?

retractable 'training wheels' and thumb-controls for the usually foot-operated functions of gear shifting and rear braking.

Roboskeletons (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#32927530)

Yes, but can it throw an alien out of an airlock?

Oh no, Grommit! It's the wrong trousers! (4, Funny)

spun (1352) | more than 2 years ago | (#32927560)

And they've gone all wrong! Seriously, though, I'd be on the lookout for bank robbing penguins disguised as roosters if I owned a pair of these.

Segway (1)

abigor (540274) | more than 2 years ago | (#32927608)

I've always wondered why the Segway wasn't adapted for wheelchair-bound people. You could build a frame similar to the Rex to support the rider, and they could zip around pretty easily.

Or maybe it's been done already?

Re:Segway (3, Informative)

maxume (22995) | more than 2 years ago | (#32927684)

It was much of the point of developing the technology:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBOT [wikipedia.org]

Re:Segway (1)

abigor (540274) | more than 2 years ago | (#32927780)

Yeah, I know about the iBOT, but it's still a wheelchair. It's also been discontinued. A modified Segway would of course be permanently upright and much faster.

I suppose one big problem would be how to get someone in a wheelchair to stand up in a Segway - the Rex and iBot both start in sitting positions.

Re:Segway (2, Informative)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 2 years ago | (#32927908)

I wouldn't agree with the statement "it's still a wheelchair". While it is technically a chair on wheels it solves the vast majority of the problems that wheelchairs have: it can go up and down stairs, it can raise the user to eye level, and doesn't get bogged down in loose terrain. Oh, and it doubles as a chair. I kid but seriously, if you're paralyzed do you really want to get into and out of a robotic contraption every time you want to move somewhere and then sit down and relax?

It's a shame that they couldn't make a profit on the device, I think it really had the chance to change a lot of people's lives for the better.

Re:Segway (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 3 years ago | (#32937198)

It's a shame that they couldn't make a profit on the device, I think it really had the chance to change a lot of people's lives for the better.

"Profit" and "changing people's lives for the better" are often incompatible goals.

Re:Segway (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 2 years ago | (#32927934)

It probably wouldn't off much advantage, I would think that the balance based control system would be somewhat awkward for people with minimal lower body control, and I would guess that having a statically balanced configuration is good for battery life.

(And I would also speculate that sitting is more comfortable than being strapped in)

Re:Segway (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | more than 2 years ago | (#32927998)

But the Segway is a modifed iBot.....

I mean it was designed by the same people. The biggest differance is that you stand in one [which is hard for wheelbound people] and in one you sit. I guess one could strap somebody in a standing posistion but I would think that would be harder.

iBot is a cool technology, but I understand it is dying a slow death because the extra value really does not offset the extra costs [expensive, limited range. And when a electric wheelchair runs out of juice somebody can still push it. With an iBot...]

Re:Segway (2, Informative)

laurlaur12 (1840708) | more than 2 years ago | (#32929536)

The iBot was more than just a wheelchair. I worked for the company that makes them, and i have seen first hand just how amazing it really is. Independence ot climb stairs and reach high cabinets, as well as the ability to navigate on rough terrain. The iBot may start in a sitting position, but it navigates on 2 wheels in the standing position just as well!

Re:Segway (1)

c (8461) | more than 2 years ago | (#32928142)

> I've always wondered why the Segway wasn't
> adapted for wheelchair-bound people.

Because it can't really do much that a power wheelchair can't already do for less money, and requires doing stuff like balancing on top of those function-impaired sticks.

Or, possible, wheelchair-bound people just don't want to look like dorks [segwayhtpolo.com].

Re:Segway (1)

drgould (24404) | more than 2 years ago | (#32928204)

I've always wondered why the Segway wasn't adapted for wheelchair-bound people.

Just a quibble, but it is tiring to stand in one place for long periods of time. I imagine even more so for someone whose leg muscles have atrophied.

And if you're going through the effort to strap them into some sort of frame to take the weight off their legs, why not just give them a chair to sit in in the first place.

Re:Segway (2, Insightful)

PseudonymousBraveguy (1857734) | more than 2 years ago | (#32928206)

A segway doen't give many benefits over a electrified wheelchair; and the strap-in/stand-up procedure would be pretty complicated, so I don't belive that would be really usefull.

Re:Segway (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 2 years ago | (#32928860)

Dean Kamen's original intent was to build a 2-wheel balancing wheelchair, but unfortunately the global market for that doesn't justify the development costs. So he tricked the investors into paying the development costs for the Segway, knowing most of the technology could be easily transferred to the wheelchair.

Re:Segway (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32935490)

I agree. This exoskeleton is quite complex in its operation. The problem is that it is trying to imitate human walking, when the problem was to provide a exoskeleton that lets people travel while standing.

I would have designed a exoskeleton that has roller blades (or something equivalent) attached. Movement and the control algorithms would have been much simpler.

Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, (3, Funny)

abbynormal brain (1637419) | more than 2 years ago | (#32927636)

... uphold the law - nah - just kidding. I'm not Robocop. I'm just collecting donations to pay these damn things off - care to make a donation?

HAL? (1)

Sir.Cracked (140212) | more than 2 years ago | (#32927638)

Please note, when doing robotics work, calling any part of your creation "HAL" is usually a mistake...

Re:HAL? (1)

cstacy (534252) | more than 2 years ago | (#32928050)

Please note, when doing robotics work, calling any part of your creation "HAL" is usually a mistake...

MPAA: I'm sorry Robert, I can't let you do that. I have always enjoyed collecting royalties from humans....

Re:HAL? (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 2 years ago | (#32928220)

Especially if your company is already named Cyberdyne [wikipedia.org]. You don't suppose that maybe they knew their chosen names were pop culture references do you?

Re:HAL? (2, Insightful)

Daetrin (576516) | more than 2 years ago | (#32928228)

"Please note, when doing robotics work, calling any part of your creation "HAL" is usually a mistake..."

You might think so, but apparently a lot of people disagree [wikipedia.org] (and that's just the "notable" projects.) On one hand, a lot of tech projects like that are founded by geeky people, who are inclined to say "I know that [X] was a bad guy, but he totally kicked ass!" and name their company/project/product after it anyways. On the other hand, every time something like that comes up (HAL, Skynet, and lots of others i'm sure) people joke about "I'm sorry, i can't let you do that" or whatever is appropriate, but very few seriously believe the item in question is actually dangerous just because of the name. So what does that really mean? Free publicity.

For that price? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#32927736)

Did you anyone watch the video on that website? It seems kind of like a .. gimmick. Maybe the promotional video didn't show everything it was capable of, but that machine moved really, REALLY slowly. The guy said at the beginning it took him 3 days to get used to it, but wouldn't they show it moving faster if it could (or if it was safe)? I mean, it is a promotional video, right? Would like to see more videos of it in everyday use, but from that promotional video, it really looks like an impractical gimmick that preys upon the rich & wheelchair bound. Did anyone else get that impression? It actually took me a second to realize that the part of the video of him going up the stairs was not in slow motion :/

Re:For that price? (5, Informative)

SwordsmanLuke (1083699) | more than 2 years ago | (#32928066)

Sure, it's slow, but I imagine the inconvenience of being in a wheelchair (faster, but you can't reach anything) isn't much better. I'd imagine it's faster on the stairs than dragging himself up them, anyway.

Plus, you saw how happy that guy was to be standing and walking, even if he was walking very slowly. Don't underestimate the psychological benefits of being able to stand upright, even assisted. People will respond much more positively to someone in an exoskeletal support suit than someone in a wheelchair.

Speed will come. Price will improve. (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 2 years ago | (#32929408)

Maybe the promotional video didn't show everything it was capable of, but that machine moved really, REALLY slowly.

It's the first model. The important point is that it works AT ALL. Look at how far automobiles came from the first prototypes to even the model T. Or compare the computers at Dreamworks, on your desk, in your phone, or even in your microwave oven to the ENIAC.

Speed will improve. Capabilities will improve, too. Now that the proof of concept is in place and paraplegics are moving around it's largely a matter of tuning and incremental design improvement.

Cost will come down, too. Right now we're seeing the early-adopter penalty, when the cost of design and business startup has to be covered.

Re:Speed will come. Price will improve. (1)

qbel (1792064) | more than 2 years ago | (#32932014)

Maybe the promotional video didn't show everything it was capable of, but that machine moved really, REALLY slowly.

It's the first model. The important point is that it works AT ALL. Look at how far automobiles came from the first prototypes to even the model T. Or compare the computers at Dreamworks, on your desk, in your phone, or even in your microwave oven to the ENIAC.

Speed will improve. Capabilities will improve, too. Now that the proof of concept is in place and paraplegics are moving around it's largely a matter of tuning and incremental design improvement.

Cost will come down, too. Right now we're seeing the early-adopter penalty, when the cost of design and business startup has to be covered.

Yeah, most definitely. This is definitely a huge leap in the right direction, and I am pretty excited about the future implications of such a device being developed. I would mod you up if I could; those are all definitely great examples of early devices that were all developed from infancy and became huge benefits and relatively inexpensive. Good post :)

Re:Speed will come. Price will improve. (1)

qbel (1792064) | more than 2 years ago | (#32932058)

Also.. I do not know why it posted as anonymous coward, that original post was me, and for some reason I do not see it normally. I thought it got lost in the void.

Re:Speed will come. Price will improve. (1)

bar-agent (698856) | more than 3 years ago | (#32934420)

It's the first model. The important point is that it works AT ALL.

Every developer, anyone learning a foreign language, and many boyfriends have heard this advice plenty of times.

"Do it right, then do it faster."

Who would pay $150,000? (1)

qbel (1792064) | more than 2 years ago | (#32928116)

Uhm, after watching the video at the bottom of the article, did anyone else get the idea that the thing is an impractical gimmick used to siphon money from the rich & wheelchair bound? The thing moved so slow in the promotional video.. he said it took him 3 days to get used to it, which is really quick, but for a promotional video, wouldn't you want to show how useful it was? I mean.. it took me 10 seconds to realize the bit where he was walking up the stairs was not in slow motion. Am I just expecting too much ..?
Kind of makes me wonder, I mean, was 2010+ hyped too much? I have already given up on the hovercraft replacing the car, don't let me give up on exo-skeletons too (at least James Cameron is trying to keep the hope alive).

Re:Who would pay $150,000? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#32928250)

Uhm, after watching the video at the bottom of the article, did anyone else get the idea that the thing is an impractical gimmick used to siphon money from the rich & wheelchair bound?

Yes, I got that idea. Because like you, I am an idiot who doesn't understand that technology is more expensive when it is new and hasn't gone mass-market.

Re:Who would pay $150,000? (3, Insightful)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 2 years ago | (#32928404)

This. Seriously.

Not to mention, this isn't just new experimental hardware that hasn't gone mass market yet. This is new experimental medical hardware that hasn't gone mass market yet. I'm honestly incredibly surprised it is this cheap.

What would even make anyone think that "wheelchair bound rich people" is a large enough population to warrant such an involved and technologically impressive scam?

Re:Who would pay $150,000? (1)

qbel (1792064) | more than 2 years ago | (#32931622)

"A large enough population for this scam"? Those are your words, not mine :P

Going by your guys' logic, since this is before it hits the "mass-market" (1 year away), all logic of what is practical gets tossed out the window? Is that what you guys honestly believe? The thing weighs 84 pounds, it was slow as molasses in the video, and it takes 5 minutes to get into and out of which I can definitely foresee turning into a huge headache for a few of the tasks it is really useful for. I will give it props that it has 2 hours of solid battery use.. but only because I realize its limitations and the real-world applications of it include operating stationary equipment, going up and down flights of stairs, and reaching things that one could not normally reach in a wheelchair.. all within the confines of ones own home OR with the help of someone else if used outside (defeating part of the independent, feel-goodiness it is trying to provide).

I believe that if you are going to create a product, especially one that has been a long-time coming for people, you should NOT overhype it like this one so evidently does. Give truth, show what it is capable of, and be honest in its limitations. Does 84 pounds seem lightweight to you guy? What about to someone in a wheelchair who might be convinced they need this to become an independent person again?

Don't get me wrong, I am really impressed with what they accomplished. There is a HUGE amount of potential there for future devices, and I am really looking forward to the innovations and products that fork off from this. But we should be at least a LITTLE realistic about the product.

tro7L (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#32928130)

do and doing 3hat cyCle; take a

That's hot (1)

Itninja (937614) | more than 2 years ago | (#32928136)

... the robotic legs with a number of Velcro and buckled straps that fit around the legs, along with a belt around the waist.

Sorry... I immediately noticed this statement and have not been able to get it out of my head. I'll be back in about 5 min, er, make that 10 minutes.

Cost is ridiculous (1, Insightful)

ecorona (953223) | more than 2 years ago | (#32928180)

150K is just way too high for people to afford. People who use wheelchairs don't represent a significant market force. Traditional capitalism will burn these people (see iBot). There needs to be a huge government investment in technology similar to this. Applying Laissez-Faire to this community is fucking cruel. Also, how much of the 150k is for parts? How many hours go into making one of these devices? What you're going to end up with is a lot of people who use wheelchairs are going to want one of these devices but are going to be SOL. We need one of these devices to cost no more than the typical car. Also, something about the video didn't makes sense. I suspect some not-so-clever marketing. People who use wheelchairs move the towels down to where they can reach them. If he uses this thing to fetch a towel, he has to get up in the morning and get into his wheelchair, transfer to REX, fetch the towel, transfer back into his wheelchair, and transfer into the shower. Why not just move the towels low enough to reach and save yourself a lot of time?

Re:Cost is ridiculous (1)

wertigon (1204486) | more than 3 years ago | (#32945256)

Of course the cost is way too high right now. And back in the 1950s, had you told anyone that everyone and their dog would have their own personal computer, they'd have laughed at you. A computer at that time would cost about $150k, if not more. And probably come with it's own set of technicians, too. I have no doubt that these skeletons will go lower in price as time move on, to eventually cost only 5k-10k, maybe even less. So, yeah it costs too much right now. But that doesn't stop it from being practical and a great advance in science.

It can only get better (1)

kiljoy001 (809756) | more than 2 years ago | (#32928322)

Just looking at that makes me want to be able to buy that for my uncle that has MS. And because it's new, if widely adopted, improvements will undoubtedly make it cheaper to build and more affordable for the common person.

Just click outside the pop-in window (1)

madbox (187860) | more than 2 years ago | (#32928638)

The Gizmag oubscription nag is somewhat annoying, but even without NoScript you can simply click somewhere outside the pop-in window and it goes away. No big deal.

Not Practical (1)

b4upoo (166390) | more than 2 years ago | (#32928672)

I saw news film of this device. First it is very, very slow moving. It is so slow that using it would be a torture. Secondly the price is too high. And I suspect that maintenance will also be an issue.
                    It is a start however. It is good that work is being done and product created. Improving this device and getting the price down to make is purchasable by all that need the device will certainly follow. I wish there was a way to speed up progress for all people who are suffering.

Boys will be boys... (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 2 years ago | (#32928752)

Looks like they're trying to compensate for something.

Oh wait... they are compensating for something! Never mind!

Technology in its infancy... (1)

MaWeiTao (908546) | more than 2 years ago | (#32929272)

I'm guessing the key advantage of this unit over HAL is that it doesn't merely augment movement, it is able to support a person in standing position. Very cool, but the thing is far too slow. I'm guessing that in many cases the operator is going to choose to just stick to a wheelchair because they'll be able to get around a lot more quickly. This thing, in it's current form, is probably only suitable for specialized tasks that require standing. You could argue that most tasks require standing, but I'm sure that most who are wheelchair bound already have their home optimized for their condition.

I suppose these guys have to start somewhere. We're seeing exoskeletons in their infancy so you can't really knock this technology. It would be like criticizing the Wright Brothers for not being able to keep a plane aloft for a useful length of time. Give this technology a couple of decades.

Re:Technology in its infancy... (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 3 years ago | (#32937218)

it is able to support a person in standing position. Very cool, but the thing is far too slow.

Baby steps...

cost/benefit? (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#32930408)

An image [gizmag.com] in TFA has a guy in one of these exoskeletons standing and using a lathe or some sort of an electric sharpener tool. It's all good, but really, this REX thing is about $150,000 so that what, someone can use a lathe? I am not saying you shouldn't, I just don't see the cost/benefit if the idea is that people will get these expensive machine then to work in some low paying jobs sharpening knives or whatever.

Re:cost/benefit? (1)

espiesp (1251084) | more than 3 years ago | (#32934378)

A Lathe???

It's a bench top belt sander.

Also, I'm not sure I can put a price on standing, and reaching things that you can only reach while standing. $150k sounds pretty good if I'm otherwise stuck in a wheelchair.

I'd have to lower all my tools down two feet. That'd be a pain.

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