Homayoon Kazerooni: Affordable mobility

Berkeley Engineering 150Austin Whitney shakes hands with Homayoon Kazerooni at commencementAs Chancellor Robert Birgeneau looks on, mechanical engineering professor Homayoon Kazerooni (right) congratulates Austin Whitney, who used a robotic exoskeleton to walk across the stage at UC Berkeley's 2011 commencement.  (Photo by Steve McConnell)In 2011, graduating senior Austin Whitney carefully rose from his wheelchair, walked across the stage, and shook hands with the chancellor. He did this with the help of a robotic exoskeleton and walker developed in partnership with a team of Berkeley engineers led by Homayoon Kazerooni, professor of mechanical engineering and head of the Berkeley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory.

A number of exoskeletons have been engineered over the years by various groups around the world, but Kazerooni put a distinctly Berkeley spin on his work. He says his goal is to bring the costs down on these health aids so that they can be accessible to more people.

Seven years after that momentous commencement walk, Kazerooni’s mission continues. He recently unveiled a lighter, more flexible exoskeleton called the Phoenix through SuitX, a startup company that he spun off from his Berkeley robotics lab. The price tag of the device is still higher than he’d like, but at $40,000, it’s about the half the cost of other mobility exoskeletons on the market.

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