Walk in the park no longer just a dream

By James Ihaka

Graeme Sinclair is full of praise for the New Zealand invention. Photo / Natalie Slade
Graeme Sinclair is full of praise for the New Zealand invention. Photo / Natalie Slade

Fishing guru and television presenter Graeme Sinclair says he would jump at the chance to own a pair of robotic legs.

But with a $200,000-plus price tag, it could be a while yet.

Sinclair, host of the popular and long-running Gone Fishing series and a motivational speaker, told the Weekend Herald the Kiwi-made robotic exoskeleton, called Rex, was "bloody exciting stuff".

The technology - a pair of robotic legs that strap around the outside of a crippled person's legs and move them - has been seven years in the making, with $10 million spent on its development by Albany company Rex Bionics.

But a pair of the legs, which go on sale in December, will cost US$150,000 ($209,000) in the US and only slightly less in New Zealand.

"It's got a serious price tag, it's a lot of dosh but if enough people pick up on the technology then hopefully the price tag will show some kind of beneficial behaviour," said Sinclair, whose multiple sclerosis has left him wheelchair-bound since the late 1990s.

Sinclair said he had long craved to get out of his chair and go walking with his children in the park.

He said he was not too bothered about having to pay excess baggage for the robotic legs if he ever bought a pair.

"It'd be great just to stand up and go fly fishing, you know, waddle out to the old river and give it a flick again ... I just wonder if they're waterproof."

Ross Brereton, chief executive of the National Assembly of People with Disabilities, said Rex could be the biggest technological breakthrough for wheelchair users.

"It's awesome, it will break down barriers and has life-changing potential for people in wheelchairs. It's just incredible New Zealand technology.

"People might still want their wheelchairs but with Rex people will be able to stand in work situations and in social situations and walk up and down stairs and go to places where they just haven't been able to, so it's very, very exciting."

Mr Brereton said the technology was at the prototype stage and developments could eventually bring it to an affordable level.

Rex chief executive Jenny Morel said the research and development team were in the final testing stages for the robotic legs.

She would not say how many orders had been placed for the legs, although the company has already experienced significant interest from potential customers locally and overseas.

- NZ Herald

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