World’s First Hands-free, Self-supporting Independently Controlled Robotic Walking Device [Interview][Transcript]

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Guest: Malcolm Hebblewhite
Presenter: Wayne Bucklar
Guest Bio: Malcolm Hebblewhite has over 22 years of technical and international business experience in medical device, consumer, and personal telecommunications product design, development, sales, and marketing. Malcolm joined Rex Bionics in 2014, with commercial responsibility for this innovative technology in Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Malcolm holds an honours degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of NSW, and an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. He is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and is a named author on six international patents.

Segment overview: In today’s Health Supplier Segment, we welcome Malcolm Hebblewhite Sales and Marketing Manager, Australia and New Zealand; Global Strategic Partnerships of Rex Bionics. They are a global technology leader in robotic walking devices. Rex Bionics’ innovation in robotics provides extensive and varied benefits to REX users who have a unique combination of lifestyle and medical needs. Their two primary REX devices available; an adjustable REX Rehab for use in rehabilitation centres, and a streamlined, fit-for-purpose REX Personal made for each individual’s specific medical and physical requirements enabling the user to perform tasks and functions previously unavailable.


Wayne Bucklar: You’re listening to Health Professional Radio today, my name is Wayne Bucklar. My Guest today has an intriguing product to tell us about, probably better suited to television and radio but we’ll try and be descriptive. My guest is Malcolm Hebblewhite, sales and marketing manager for Rex Bionics. Malcolm welcome to Health Professional Radio.

Malcolm Hebblewhite: Thanks Wayne.

W: Now I’m looking at your website and this is the Rex Bionics website and I have to say it’s intriguing. What do you describe it as?

M: Thanks. So the Rex device is a robotic walking device which assists mobility impaired people and enables them to stand and walk. So we’re talking about paraplegics or quadriplegics, also other disease pathology such as stroke or MS who may have a mobility impairment they’re often wheel chair bound. And by strapping them into the device and activating it via the LCD screen and the small joystick, they are able to stand and walk, and it walks for them it’s a practice device and provides them with mobility options that they otherwise would not have. It’s the only hands-free robotic walking device in the world.

W: That’s an intriguing position to be in, isn’t it? Malcolm, so your product then is this Rex robotic mobility device. What’s your geographic footprint? Where do you service?

M: So with the technology itself has been in development for around 10 years and it originally came out of New Zealand. It’s a New Zealand based company, there’s a product development and R&D team and all the manufacturing is done at Auckland, New Zealand. As I said it’s been quite some news in development because the technology is so sophisticated and it’s so complex. There’s a lot of aerospace technology involved in the device. We have a footprint that includes not only New Zealand and Australia, we’re on both but we are also going into the US where I actually made our first hire just last week – a physical therapist there enables us to support and service existing clients. And we have some customers who have devices at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas. And we also have the University of Houston which has a couple of our devices and next month, Pierre, which is a highly respected research organization and institute for rehabilitation research will be taking delivery of their first Rex. So we have a small but growing footprint in the US. We also have an office in the UK as a result mainly of our IPO last year the company, we have come to a point where the technology was ready for commercialization and it received backing of some investors who are able to release the company on the London’s IMX exchange and raised enough money to be able to hire some people like myself to commercialize the product. So we have a small team in the UK, of sales and marketing people and clinical support people, a CEO sits there as well. And from that base they are serving Europe, the UK, Scandinavia and some various other regions. And investors are setting covering Australia, New Zealand, and the US.

W: It’s headed worldwide by the sound of it before too much longer Malcolm. It’s certainly in the whole place as we broadcast so I’m pleased to say we’ll be able to shape this out across our network into the UK and US as well. Now this is one of the rare instances where I wish I did television and not radio because it is something that would absolutely set some video. How do you describe how this looks on people when there, I don’t know what’s the jargon – are they wearing it?

M: Look people describe it as wearing it or using it or being in it. If you could imagine for your listeners both who have seen the animated movie from one of the animation studios called “The Wrong Trousers” that involved Wallace and Gromit. The early prototypes of this device were not far from that kind of imagery, it’s kind a long way since then. And now it looks very sleek, it’s very aerospace like, it uses high-tech materials and technologies like carbon fiber. There’s a lot of aerospace materials in the device so there’s a lot of titanium and aluminum. The device itself looks like a pair of legs joined by a pelvis. And if you can imagine that the pelvis wrapped around your own pelvis and then the legs are attached to that and run down pretty much the outside and behind the users’ legs. And the user is strapped into the device from a straightened position thus the legs are articulated at the ankles, knees and hips. And it tend to move into a seated position from where the wheelchair user can be transferred into it and then strapped into the device at the calves, the thighs and with a trunk strap across the abdomen. And from there once they’re strapped in, they can be moved into a standing position and then walk from there. The rehabilitation device is rapidly adjustable and by rapidly adjustable I mean using an electric screwdriver. You can adjust the length of long bones and therefore the joint position to suite a user in a rehabilitation environment. So the idea is that and we maximize the 3 footed of patients, in rehab or physical therapy clinic, to maximize the use of a device like this in that kind of environment. So after an initial consultation where the physical therapist will measure the positions of the various joints and the lengths, lengths of the limbs that are acquired for the device to be adjusted, it’s really a 5 to 10 minute operation to be able to adjust the device to suite a particular user to subsequent users.

W: Malcolm, it’s intriguing. And listeners so if you’re someone who works for people who are mobility impaired or if you see a therapist, do head of the website its www.rexbionics.com. Have a look at the photos, check out the videos. This is something that mostly brings to mind transformer movies from … Wallace and Gromit. And it does look like an absolutely unique improvement in what you can do for people who are severely mobility impaired. So don’t rely on my poor descriptions, have a look at the photos and videos at the Rex Bionics website. Now Mal, tell us what you would like clinicians to know about this.

M: Look, we’re working with some key institutions and with leading clinicians to demonstrate some of the health benefits that result from standing and moving for mobility impaired patients. So those you know in a wheel chair, there are a number of health benefits that we think the Rex device will address and these are the things like urinary tract infections, improvements in bladder and bowel movement and function, cardio respiratory improvement and a big one that we here had got an applaud amongst those who use Rex, Pain and spasticity improvement. There are a numbers advance that are unknown just from standing but there are very few options available to users particularly those with high level of severe injuries, for example quadriplegics or high level spinal cord injuries and we think that and we’re exploring through clinical trials that Rex has the ability to deliver real health benefits to these users. So along with the obvious benefits of being able to stand and interact with people based in a social setting and also in perhaps the work place, we think that there are significant benefits to being able to conduct physical therapy sessions in a standing position. And that opens up a range of exercises and applications for physical therapists that are not otherwise possible in a seated position. So there are a number of benefits both to the user and also for the physical therapist with the device, particularly with the rapidly adjustable rehabilitation device.

W: Look, absolutely intriguing to see the videos. Malcolm, with any product and service there’s always misconceptions. With Rex, what are the misconceptions out there that drives you nuts and keeps you awake at night?

M: Look Wayne, there are a number of what I call robotic exoskeletons in the market at the moment. Ours is different because it’s the only “hand-free device” and what I mean by that is the way it’s operated is via a small joystick whereas the other devices require the use of clutches and therefore upper body strength and arm strength to be able to use them. So as a result, ours is the only one that can deal with high level injuries and more severe injuries, for example we’ve had patients up to C4 Spinal Cord Injury level in the device. So I would say that getting the point across that ours is different and that it is capable of working with a broader range of patients, is one of the challenges that I face. And also I guess given that we are a startup and that we have limited resources and funding, it’s working with those limited resources to be able to get the word out there and to let people know that our device exist and what’s it’s capable of and doing that in a smart and effective way, both amongst clinicians but also amongst potential users.

W: It is going to be something that’s going to require some marketplace education, I can see that because it is quite different to other exoskeletons I’ve seen. And I should just mention in passing, we’re running short of time. But there is a home version of this that’s intended for personal use, not used in a physiotherapy clinic is that right?

M: That’s correct. So the Personal Device is customized for an individual user. And it is used in a home setting or outside of the rehabilitation environment. Now that device is not as out currently available in the United States or North America, however it is available in a variety of other countries. And we will be shortly conducting an FDA clinical trial in order to produce data that can be used to achieve the regulatory compliance to be able to market the device in the United States.

W: So if you’re a nurse or a doctor working in the acute sector and you’ve had patients with mobility issues who you think might be a contender for one of these in their personal lives, again head off to the website, it’s intriguing and worth a look. My name is Wayne Bucklar and this is Health Professional Radio. I’ve been so intrigued by the conversation, I’ve forgotten to do my station ID calls. But if you’ve missed it, you can get a transcript of our conversation at www.hpr.fm. You can see the Rex videos and photos at rexbionics.com and that address is also in the transcript and on our website. And there’s a SoundCloud archive on our website as well. Malcolm Hebblewhite, it’s been intriguing to have you with me today. I’m very pleased you’re able to join us. I can only say that I wish you and Rex Bionics all the best. Thank you for being on Health Professional Radio.

M: Thanks very much for the opportunity Wayne.

W: It’s been our pleasure. This is Wayne Bucklar on Health Professional Radio.

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