A man paralyzed after an accident was able to walk again using a brain-controlled exoskeleton suit, according to French researchers.
“It was like [being the] first man on the moon. I didn’t walk for two years,” Thibault, who kept his surname anonymous, told BBC.com. “I forgot what it is to stand, I forgot I was taller than a lot of people in the room.”
Thibault’s exoskeleton suit is designed to recognize brain signals that alert it to start and stop walking.
First, two wireless sensors are placed in the brain, over areas that are responsible for movement control. Then, these sensors record electrical signals from the brain, and send commands to the machine.
The patient trained on simple virtual simulations before using the final exoskeleton suit. Maneuvering two limbs of a viral avatar helped them learn how to steer in different directions and orientations at the same time. When it came time to test the exoskeleton suit, lights on the device told them when they should turn their hand or touch one of the lights.
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To start walking, the patient sends “start” and “stop” signals to the exoskeleton suit. For now, movement is still assisted by a ceiling-mounted harness, so the device is not fully autonomous yet. The exoskeleton system enables control of up to eight directions of motion simultaneously.
Results of the exoskeleton suit testing were published in The Lancet Neurology Journal on Thursday. The exoskeleton suit is a promising start, but more research will need to be conducted. It’s possible that patients will be able to control their wheelchair movements with similar technology in the future.
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