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Walking again with a brain-controlled exoskeleton

Out There | October 21, 2019 | By:

A 65 kilogram robotic suit has helped a paralyzed man walk again. The suit uses advanced computer software and two brain implants that read and transmit information from the part of the patient’s brain that controls motor function.

Photo: Fonds de Dotation Clinatec  (Clinatec Endowment Fund) Grenoble.

As reported on, the patient had surgery to place the implants on the surface of his brain, covering the parts that control movement. Each implant features 64 electrodes that read brain activity and communicate instructions to a nearby computer. The computer then reads the brainwaves and turns them into instructions for controlling the exoskeleton.

The 28-year-old man from Lyon, France, identified as Thibault, practiced using the brain implants to control a virtual character in a computer simulation, in preparation for the inaugural walk. Researchers report that the first walk allowed Thibault to cover 145 meters (about 476 feet), totaling 480 steps, using the avatar, video and exoskeleton combined.

Thibault was attached to a ceiling harness to stabilize his activity while using the exoskeleton, which is not yet ready to move outside the laboratory. The team of French scientists will continue to refine the technology, including plans to develop finger controls allowing a person to pick up and move objects.

Fonds de Dotation Clinatec  (Clinatec Endowment Fund) Grenoble.

“Our findings could move us a step closer to helping tetraplegic patients to drive computers using brain signals alone,” said Professor Stephan Chabardes, a neurosurgeon from Grenoble University Hospital, Grenoble, France, and author of the study. “Perhaps starting with driving wheelchairs using brain activity instead of joysticks and progressing to developing an exoskeleton for increased mobility.”

The team’s study was published in The Lancet Neurology. The Fonds de Dotation Clinatec  (Clinatec Endowment Fund), which is supporting the research, is headquartered in Grenoble.

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