Britain's bionic man: Robot suit allows Olympic torch bearer, 22, to walk again five years after seafront car smash
Exoskeleton is strapped over user’s
clothes and uses battery powered motors to lift people from sitting and move their legs
12:52 GMT, 19 April 2012
A British student who was paralysed in a horror car smash is walking again five years later thanks to a revolutionary bionic suit.
David Follett, 22, suffered a spinal-cord injury to his neck following the accident in which he was hit by a car as he strolled along Exmouth seafront in Devon on April 18, 2007.
The A-level student was left with partial paralysis and confined to a wheelchair. But now he is up and walking, having become one of only three UK 'test pilots' for the Ekso, a ready-to-wear, battery operated robot suit.
Back on his feet: The exoskeleton (left) uses battery powered motors to assist David in walking
The bionic exoskeleton allows wheelchair users to walk under clinical supervision.
David, from Exeter, said: 'It is such a great feeling to walk again, virtually by myself, it feels really natural.
'Since my accident, I have continued rehab, which has helped improve my strength and made me more independent.
'The exoskeleton is an extension of the standing I have been doing as part of my physio and I hope to continue with it for as long as I can.'
David who was diagnosed as an incomplete tetraplegic heard about Ekso through his physiotherapy clinic. He thought he would be an ideal candidate to test pilot the exoskeleton thanks to his fitness and enthusiasm.
David injured his spinal cord in 2007. He is now confined to a wheelchair to get around unless he uses the robot suit
He became one of only three people in the UK to be chosen to test the suit, developed by Ekso Bionics in Berkeley, California, as a ready-to-wear exoskeleton.
It is strapped on over the user’s clothes and uses battery powered motors to lift people from the sitting position and mechanically move their legs. Velcro straps secure it safely to the user, over their clothing and shoes.
Up and away: David Follett was chosen to test the exoskeleton due to his fitness and enthusiasm
At the time of his accident, David was studying for his A-levels in English, geography and PE and was planning to continue his studies at university.
Afterwards he spent seven months in Salisbury Spinal Unit, undergoing rehabilitation, before returning home the following November.
Since then, he has rebuilt his life, forging a promising career in wheelchair badminton and setting up his own club.
He said: 'I was first introduced to wheelchair badminton at a demo in my local area.
'I hadn’t played it before my accident but really enjoyed it and had a natural knack for the sport.
'Since starting, I have won doubles medals with my teammate, Rowan Crossman, and collected runner-up medals in singles at a number of four nations’ competitions.
'I’m currently training four times a week and will be competing in the European Championships, in Dortmund, in June.
'I’m also going to be an Olympic torch carrier in May, which I’m very excited about.'
In addition to competing, David has established the biggest wheelchair badminton club in the UK, the Devon Racqueteers, with the help of his parents, Rowan, and coach Sarah Hawkins. He has also established himself as a qualified badminton coach.