Tomorrow's technology today.
Exoskeletons have not been a domain of science-fiction movies for a long time. The world has already seen many exoskeletons that are able not only to facilitate the exercise of physically demanding professions, but also to support the rehabilitation process. Unfortunately, no exoskeleton has been created to date, which a paralyzed patient would be able to use on a daily basis, alone, but it seems that we are slowly moving towards it.
Scientists from France have developed an exoskeleton that uses brain-computer interface, allowing tetraplegic (a person with paralysis involving all limbs) to walk. A patient qualified for the study – a 28-year-old who had a trauma to the cervical vertebra in the past – was implanted on the brain surface with two implants that allowed him to control the device with the help of thought.
Thibault, because that was the patient's name, needed two years of training to be able to take control of the exoskeleton. The effort, however, paid off, which is perfectly illustrated by the video below.
As you can see, for safety, Thibault has been secured with a harnessthat would prevent any injury in the event of a potential fall. It seems obvious that the patient could not use such an exoskeleton outside the laboratory – it looks like a heavy device, which requires the help of at least one other person to put on. The ability to control such an exoskeleton with your thoughts is a huge step forward, especially since implant surgery was less invasive than similar treatments in the past.
"Our brain-computer interface is the first such system that is semi-invasive and wireless, yet designed for long-term use to activate all four limbs." said Alim-Louis Benabid, one of the authors of the study.
"Previous research into brain-computer interfaces used more invasive recording devices, implanted under the outermost membrane of the brain, where these eventually ceased to function." added Benabid. "These devices were connected to cables, allowed to move only one limb or focused on restoring the patient's muscles."
We are extremely interested in how the exoskeleton from France will be improved in the future. Yes, it is an extremely promising device, but it still lacks a perfect solution that could support people who are paralyzed also outside meetings with physiotherapists. For now, researchers intend to focus on enabling the use of an exoskeleton without the use of a safety harness.
Source: The Lancet Neurology