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when the paralyzed 22-year-old rose from his wheelchair and stepped across the UC Berkeley commencement stage to shake Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's hand, the crowd of 15,000 at Edwards Stadium went wild with cheers, as if witnessing a miracle.
A team of UC Berkeley mechanical engineers - four doctoral students led by Professor Homayoon Kazerooni - have been developing a computerized body brace called an exoskeleton they believe will be good enough to transform thousands of wheelchair users into walking people in a couple of years, and for an affordable price.
UC Berkeley engineers had been at work. By the time Whitney arrived on campus in 2008, Kazerooni and his team had been developing robotic exoskeletons for nearly a decade. Their research into smart body frames began as a Defense Department project to find a better way for soldiers to haul heavy loads over long distances, then blossomed into Berkeley Bionics, a company Kazerooni co-founded in 2005.