In 2007, Austin Whitney was paralyzed from the waist down in a tragic drunk driving accident. At the time, Whitney had just graduated from high school with a 4.0 grade point average. Determined to succeed, he worked hard to graduate from UC Berkeley this month with a double major and honors. Then, to everyone’s amazement, Whitney walked across the stage with the help of an “exoskeleton” to accept his diploma.
This remarkable achievement was made possible by Whitney’s dedication and some help from a team of graduate students lead by Homayoon Kazerooni. The group of mechanical engineers, using a DARPA grant, fashioned a device that will enable to user to carry heavy loads over long distances and rough terrain. Whitney’s use of the device to simply walk seven steps, however, has provided a glimpse into how this technology can be used to help disabled people in a civilian context.
This inspiring story and others like it prove that medicine and science are providing opportunities that would have seemed impossible just decades ago. Who can imagine what future developments will allow?