This is a story of how a car crash survivor learned how to walk again using a robotic skeleton controlled by his thoughts and became the world’s first ventilator-reliant tetraplegic to take part in Tough Mudder, an event organized by British Special Forces where participants attempt to finish a 10–12 miles of military-like obstacle course.
Two years ago, Rob Camm was paralyzed in a car crash, which left him immobile from the neck down, just a week before he was due to start university. The young dude acquired tetraplegia (also known as quadriplegia) from the accident, a condition that often results to the partial or total loss of use of all their limbs and torso. The loss is usually sensory and motor, which means that both sensation and control are gone.
Last month, though, Camm received a great gift. The student became the first tetraplegic in the world who is reliant on a ventilator to learn how to walk again using an incredible robotic skeleton controlled by his thoughts.
But Camm didn’t stop himself from trying new things just because he’s ill. When he got his robotic skeleton, he challenged himself even more. Not only did he join the Tough Mudder, he also finished the grueling 12-mile course in a wheelchair he controlled with his chin.
Rob is a former rugby player who lives with his family in Breadstone, Gloucester. The twenty-one-year-old braved it and took part in the notorious Tough Mudder, which is billed as probably the toughest event on the planet.
Rob said, “I wanted to do a Tough Mudder before the accident and still wanted to do it now. I’ve got a wheelchair that’s capable of doing it, so I thought why not? It’s a wheelchair set on top of a quad bike, and I’ve not found anything that can stop it yet. People think that someone in my position shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing, but I’m just going to prove them wrong.”
Rob navigated difficult terrains with his specially made Extreme X8 electric wheelchair that can reach speeds of 10 km per hour. Even though he wasn’t able to conquer some of the obstacles, including the monkey bars and mud pits as well as the high walls and narrow tunnels, he conquered the terrains and cleared tree branches and towed his father’s 4 x 4 with it.
Rob just finished his first year studying philosophy and politics at the University of Bristol with a 2:1. In his attempt to finish the game, he was joined in the Cotswolds by a team of friends and family, the people whom he believed supported him through a course made up of Britain’s deepest, darkest mud, and soul-crushing terrain.
He added, “I do nowhere near as many physical outdoor challenges as I used to do, and it is a huge thing for me to have that challenge again.”
The cap placed on Rob’s head is covered in seventy-nine electrodes, which are filled with ultrasound gel. He would then think about the process of walking, and the cap picked up signals from his brain through his skull and mapped them. The next time he repeated these thoughts, the cap picked up the signals and relayed them to a computer in the exoskeleton, which was attached to his torso and legs. This is usually the process Camm undergoes to move his body using the invention.
This remarkable exoskeleton decodes the signals and sends them to the legs of the machine, which is powered by hydraulics, and steps forward as he thinks about making the movement.
The reason Rob joined the Tough Mudder was to raise money for SpecialEffect, a charity that provided technology to help him adjust to his life after the accident, which occurred when he played his final rugby match for his local team Dursley RFC in September 2013. At the time, Rob was just about to start the pre-season rugby training at York University, where he was due to study politics, philosophy, and economics, a plan he had to put to a halt because of the unfortunate event.
Rob was in intensive care for ninety-six days, and the crash left him paralyzed from the neck down, unable to walk again. He was allowed home, and April this year, he started working with experts at Rex Bionics in the UK and Rome to try out their exoskeleton.
“To see my toes and my feet move forward was pretty incredible. For the past two years, I haven’t seen that really, so it’s very unusual, and it’s quite enjoyable to see your body moving in that way,” he added.