A French man is now able to move all four of his paralysed limbs and walk again, thanks to a mind-controlled exoskeleton suit.
Thibault, who doesn’t want his surname revealed, fell 15m in an incident at a nightclub four years ago and due to the injury to his spinal cord, he spent the next two years in hospital unable to move.
The breakthrough in exoskeleton technology means Thibault is able to control his movements in the suit with his thoughts.
The tetraplegic was able to move all four of his limbs through brain signals recorded and interpreted by the robotic suit.
A team of French researchers, including from the University of Grenoble, planted a recording device between the patient’s brain and skull on both sides of his head. The implants contained electrodes that collect brain signals and transmit them to an algorithm that decodes them.
These collected signals were translated into his movements and were sent to the exoskeleton suit to move. To balance correctly, the suit was suspended from the ceiling so it wouldn’t fall over.
While the movements are nowhere near the ability to walk freely, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. More experimentation and research could help to change the lives of those with spinal injuries.
Describing taking his first steps since his injury four years ago, Thibault called the experience like being the ‘first man on the Moon’, according to the BBC.
For the implant to work with his brain, he had to train the device to understand his thoughts. This led to 95 days of training the algorithm and then a further 45 days of operating the suit.
One of the training games was moving a digital avatar across a screen in a Pong-style video game. The next stage was grabbing 2D and 3D objects while wearing the 65kg exoskeleton suit.
Thibault said walking in the suit was a challenging experience:
I forgot what it is to stand, I forgot I was taller than a lot of people in the room… It was very difficult because it is a combination of multiple muscles and movements.
This is the most impressive thing I do with the exoskeleton.
The next stage of the trial is to remove the ceiling-mounted harness from the process and allow the suit to balance unaided. The suit is a long way from being a reality at present, but there’s hope that the lives of people with spinal injuries will change for the better.
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Matt Weston is a lover of electric cars, artificial intelligence and space. From Cornwall, he’s a UCLan graduate that still dreams of being a Formula One driver in the very near future. Previously work includes reporting for regional newspapers and freelance video for the International Business Times.