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Kiwi-designed bionic arm for stroke victims

Sunday 9 Dec 2012 5:45 p.m.

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A Kiwi company says its latest invention has the potential to change the lives of millions of people around the world.

It has commissioned a Massey University student to design what it says is the world's first brain-controlled device for stroke sufferers – a bionic arm.

“My mother had a stroke,” says Rex Bionics founder Richard Little. “She was lying there immobile on one side and really unable to care for herself. And I thought then what a perfect solution would be to have an arm to plug in straight away.”

Users wear a headset, which literally reads the patient's mind.

“It monitors the neuron activities in your brain and it picks up certain patterns and signals, which are translated with your thought patterns,” says designer Wendy Xue, a Massey University student.

That way, sufferers can think about and then complete everyday tasks the way they did before their stroke.

“Like combing your hair, brushing your teeth,” says Ms Xue.

The company's robotic legs are now being used all around the world. Mr Little has just shipped the legs to a gentleman in India.

“He's a well known politician, Mr Jogi.”

Rex Bionics believes the arms will be just as popular.

“[There are] sixty million people a year having a stroke and 10 million surviving from that,” says Mr Little. “They all have to rehabilitate to a greater or lesser extent.”

But Mr Little's mother, who inspired the concept, might not agree.

“She was probably a bit old-fashioned for this sort of thing,” says Mr Little. “I had trouble getting her into a scooter.”

And what do the physiotherapists who normally work with stroke victims think?

“The physiotherapist said don't do it because you're taking away my job!” says Ms Xue.

The project is in its very early stages. But Rex Bionics hopes it will be ready to take to the market in two years.

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