A man, who was paralyzed shoulders down, has just regained his ability to walk using a mind-controlled exoskeleton. Yes, you’ve read that right. Something that was previously only thought to have existed in Sci-Fi movies is now here in the real world. How did it come to be? Let’s find out.
Published in The Lancet Neurology, are the results of a two-year trial that caught everyone’s attention. And why wouldn’t it? An exoskeleton, operated by recording and decoding brain signals does seem like a thing of the future. Pair that with the fact that it has helped a tetraplegic patient to walk again, makes it all the more groundbreaking.
Now, before you all get excited, this experiment is still in a testing and improvement phase and is nowhere near clinical application. However, the authors of the report say that once some minor improvements are made, it will make significant improvements in the lives of patients who suffer from any form of paralysis or hindrance in the movement of muscles.
Professor Alim-Louis Benabid, President of the Clinatec Executive Board, a CEA laboratory, and Professor Emeritus from the University of Grenoble, France says, “Ours’ is the first semi-invasive wireless brain-computer system designed for long term use to activate all four limbs”.
He further adds, “Previous brain-computer studies have used more invasive recording devices implanted beneath the outermost membrane of the brain, where they eventually stop working. They have also been connected to wires, limited to creating movement in just one limb, or have focused on restoring movement to patients’ own muscles”.
Two recording devices were attached on either side of the head of the patient. They were placed such that they were exactly between the brain and the skin and they spanned the sensorimotor cortex. That’s the part of the brain that controls motor functions. To detect and record brain signals, each recorder had a grid of 64 electrodes. The signals, after being detected, were then sent to a decoding algorithm that actuated the skeleton accordingly.
Over the 24 months of trial, the patient did various mental tasks to train the algorithm and improve it, which increased the number of movements he could make. Over this time, the system didn’t require recalibration for up to 7 weeks. There were a total of 14 joints in the exoskeleton, which meant 14 degrees of freedom.
The trial is still in progress and three more patients have been recruited for further testing and improvements. The current iteration needs the help of a ceiling suspension system so, naturally, the next step would be a fully autonomous balance. With the progress they’re making, it won’t be long before it will be ready for use and revolutionize health technology.