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Exoskeleton Helps Cal Grad Walk Stage At Commencement Ceremony

BERKELEY (KCBS) -- As if walking in Saturday's commencement ceremony at UC Berkeley wasn't an extraordinary feat in itself, the moment was extra special for Austin Whitney, a 22-year-old paraplegic that actually walked the stage.

The graduating senior was able to get out of his wheelchair thanks to the innovative engineering team at Cal for the development of an exoskeleton, made of computerized, wearable, robotic legs that look like leg braces.

After he was paralyzed in a car accident, Whitney entered college using a wheelchair, but in the past year, a Cal professor of mechanical engineering and his team of PhD students made the machine that helped Whitney walk.

KCBS' Anna Duckworth Reports:

"Four years ago, I was in a hospital bed being told that I would never walk again," said Whitney, who at that time didn't exactly have college graduation on his mind.

Seeing her son overcome the odds and join 2,100 graduates in the walk symbolic of earning his degree was a dream come true for Lillian Whitney.

"Support your child in whatever endeavor. He's inspired us and made us better parents and given us strength that we never knew we had," said his mother.

Whitney is the first test pilot for the Cal team's exoskeleton that's been named Austin in his honor.

Austin plans to keep using the exoskeleton with hopes that the technology will help others around the world with paralysis in the near future.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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