A mind-controlled robotic suit is helping a paralyzed man walk again. The researchers behind the project say the man has been able to move all four of his paralyzed limbs using an exoskeleton controlled by his brain. So far, the man has only tested his newfound mobility in the lab at Clinatec and the University of Grenoble in France.
The man, identified only as Thibault from Lyon, suffered an accident in a night club four years ago in which he fell nearly 50 feet. He suffered a cervical spinal cord injury that resulted in all four of his limbs being partially or totally paralyzed. He only maintained some movement in his biceps and left wrist.
Thibault began taking part in the exoskeleton trial in 2017, with the prep work for the exoskeleton taking 24 months. Thibault had to have recording devices implanted on either side of his head, between the brain and skin, to tap into his sensorimotor cortex, which controls sensation and motor function. He then had to train the team’s algorithm to understand his thoughts by controlling a virtual avatar within a video game. During testing, he spent 45 days operating the exoskeleton and 95 days training at home with a researcher by his side.
Now, he is reportedly able to operate, maneuver, and walk in the whole-body robotic exoskeleton using only his brain signals. The exoskeleton’s 14 joints and 14 degrees of freedom allow Thibault to move his body in 14 different ways. The exoskeleton suit weighs more than 140 pounds and is attached to the ceiling by a harness so he doesn’t fall.
While his movements were far from perfect, researchers believe the suit could one day improve patients’ quality of life. Stephan Chabardes, neurosurgeon from the CHU of Grenoble-Alpes, France, said in a statement, “Our findings could move us a step closer to helping tetraplegic patients to drive computers using brain signals alone, perhaps starting with driving wheelchairs using brain activity instead of joysticks and progressing to developing an exoskeleton for increased mobility.”