The professor said he envisioned bigger plans for his exoskeleton -- helping a person who cannot walk be able to.
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Four years later, the idea culminated with the unveiling of BLEEX -- the Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton.
The contraption, which has a backpack frame, connects to a person's legs and uses its own power source to move them without putting undue stress on the muscles of the human attached to it.
"We've designed this system to be ergonomic, highly maneuverable and technically robust, so the wearer can walk, squat, bend and swing from side to side without noticeable reductions in agility," Kazerooni said in a Berkeley press release at the time.
"It really was beyond my wildest dreams," Whitney said Sunday night. it really was overwhelming." Whitney was able to move his legs thanks to an "exoskeleton" created by a group of graduate students and Berkeley mechanical engineering professor Homayoon Kazerooni.
"They're absolutely amazing," Whitney said of the engineers.
"They're my best friends at the university." He has been working with the team for several months.
The project that helped Whitney take his first steps in years dates back to in 2000,when Kazerooni received a grant from the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency -- a division of the U. Department of Defense -- to make an apparatus that would allow people to carry heavy loads for longer periods of time, according to Berkeley's media relations department.
(CNN) -- Austin Whitney is walking proof that determination -- combined with creative ingenuity -- can turn a seemingly impossible idea into a reality.
Paralyzed from the waist down since a 2007 drunken driving accident, he had worked hard to graduate on time -- and with honors -- from the University of California at Berkeley. But nothing compared to how he accepted his diploma on Saturday.
Pressing a button on his walker, Whitney rose to his feet at the commencement ceremony.
Then, with the flick of a switch, his legs moved across the stage. Halfway through, he glanced over to the cheering crowd of 15,000 people, who were also on their feet.