Robert Irving and Richard Little

Bionic Legs

Bionic Legs - Robert Irving and Richard Little

In 2003, Scottish born kiwi import Robert Irving was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. His own mother was already a sufferer of the debilitating disease and so he knew that a future in a wheelchair might be ahead of him.

As an engineer however, he decided to do something to prepare for this eventuality. He teamed up with fellow engineer and another import to NZ Richard Little - the two describe themselves as 'kiwi by - and they decided to use their engineering know-how to design and develop a machine that would allow wheelchair users to stand and walk. Their first design sketch was decidedly low tech, literally on the back of a beermat, but the machinery they put together was anything but.

They describe New Zealand as a great place to innovate - an easy place to do business, with lots of innovation nearby, 'We googled it, and discovered the world leader for a component we needed was in Onehunga'. The robot they developed is a complex mixture of computer hardware, software, electronics, and electro-mechanical parts, expertly assembled and designed to fit around the legs and lower torso of the body. From a sitting position, where you strap yourself in, the bionic legs can help you stand and walk - and much more besides.

The sophisticated machinery allows the user to control it with a small joystick and there are even plans to extend the 'sci-fi' factor further, with a collaboration that would allow users to control the legs with their thoughts alone - harnessing the electrical impulses of the brain and translating them to commands for the Rex machine.