We scribbled the first blueprint on the back of a beer coaster

Robert Irving and Richard Little

A blueprint to walk again

“Most of us don’t realize what the human body is capable of until it’s too late.”

So says Robert Irving, co-inventor of REX – an astonishing ‘walking machine’ like no other. It contains 29 computers (the brain); 10 power Units (the muscles); hundreds of wires (the nerves); and a frame (the skeleton). Plus a joystick for steering. A total of 4,320 components – of which 4,318 are custom-made.

Robert Irving & Richard Little

Like many great inventions it was born out of necessity. Robert was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis back in 2004 and with it an 80% chance of being wheelchair-bound. His best pal (and fellow engineer) Richard Little suggested they invent a pair of bionic legs to help him.

“We sat in the pub and scribbled down the first, very rough blueprint on the back of a beer coaster. It then took two years of working weekends in the garage before we finally had a working version, able to walk by itself.”

After a further six years and many ‘dark nights’ (including the sacrifice of family time, sleep and at times, sanity) they received funding for their start up, Rex Bionics. Today, REX bionic legs are benefitting people from Korea to the United States, from paraplegics or stroke sufferers. For these people - for now at least - technology has beaten medicine in the race to help them walk again.

“Every time REX helps someone stand up it’s a deeply emotional experience for everyone,” he says. People have to literally re-imagine their lives again.”

With an estimated five million potential users in Europe and the United States alone, work has now begun on the next REX.

As for Robert, he continues to stand on his own two feet – in every respect.

Today's Pioneers