A 30-year-old French tetraplegic, has taken his first steps in two years thanks to a four-limbed robotic exoskeleton that is controlled through signals from his brain.
Findings published in The Lancet Neurology Journal detail how the man, who had sensors implanted into his brain, was able to walk and move the arms and hands of the suit.
“(This) is the first semi-invasive wireless brain-computer system designed… to activate all four limbs,”Alim-Louis Benabid, a neurosurgeon and professor at the University of Grenoble, France, who co-led the trial, told New Channel News Asia.
This kind of technology has faced many challenges, with the most significant being how to insert the required electrodes without risking serious infections. According to New Scientist, the engineers tried to minimise this risk by resting the electrodes on the brain’s outer membrane, thereby limiting the risk of an infection causing severe damage.
The trial implanted two recording devices on either side of the patient’s head. These recorders collected brain signals which corresponded to his thoughts on making a specific movement. The signals are transmitted through a decoding algorithm and sent as instructions to the suit.
Before the current trial, the patient performed various mental tasks over two years to train the algorithm to understand his thoughts and increase the number of movements he could make.
“I felt like the first man on the moon,” the patient, referred to as Thibault told New Scientist. “I hadn’t walked for two years. I had forgotten that I used to be taller than a lot of people in the room. It was very impressive.”
The exoskeleton is currently kept upright by a connection to the roof, the next goal is to get it the suit to self-stabilise and balance on it’s own.
Image: The Lancet