Austin Whitney, a UC Berkeley student who was paralyzed in an auto accident four years ago, walked across the stage at his commencement ceremony using the "Austin" exoskeleton, developed by Berkeley's Prof. Homayoon Kazerooni and his team of mechanical engineering students.
Graduation is a big step for any 22-year-old, but for Austin Whitney, it was huge: The UC Berkeley grad, a paraplegic since 2007, stood from his wheelchair and walked across stage at Saturday's commencement ceremony.
He did it using an "exoskeleton," a kind of robotic device that is worn on the legs, which look and act almost like a pair of leg braces. It was built by a team of UC Berkeley engineers. When Whitney reached the stage, he pressed a button on his walker that signaled the exoskeleton to step forward -- and the crowd burst into cheers.
“It was overpowering,” Whitney said at a news conference after the commencement ceremony. “I’ve stood in the [exoskeleton] machine a lot of times before, but I knew that it would be different up here (on stage), and it truly was.”
Whitney's life was changed forever the summer after high school: In July 2007, after a night of drinking with friends, he drove his car into a tree -- a crash that severed his spinal cord right above his hip.
He transferred to UC Berkeley as a sophomore, and in the fall of 2010 he began working with engineers at the university on his plans for his dramatic commencement ceremony walk. In fact, Homayoon Kazerooni, the professor of mechanical engineering who led the engineering team behind the exoskeleton, even named the device "Austin."
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