Paraplegic walks by guiding a robotic skeleton with the brain via an EEG system

A paraplegic walking using the EEG-controlled exoskeleton--Screenshot courtesy of UC Irvine

Robotic exoskeletons to enable paraplegics to walk that are manually controlled have been around for years; arm and hand prosthetics that can be mentally manipulated and enable sensation have also been developed. Now, researchers have combined some of these capabilities to enable a paraplegic to walk using a robotic exoskeleton controlled by the brain via an electroencephalogram (EEG)-based system.

In the proof-of-concept effort, a participant walked a 3.66-mile course using a robotic exoskeleton that was controlled by the EEG system that takes the electrical signals from the brain and sends them via electrodes placed around the knees to stimulate muscles and induce movement.

"Even after years of paralysis the brain can still generate robust brain waves that can be harnessed to enable basic walking," noted one of the lead study researchers, Dr. An Do, from the University of California, Irvine. "We showed that you can restore intuitive, brain-controlled walking after a complete spinal cord injury. This noninvasive system for leg muscle stimulation is a promising method and is an advance of our current brain-controlled systems that use virtual reality or a robotic exoskeleton."

The 26-year-old study participant trained as preparation with an EEG cap to read his brainwaves to control an avatar in a virtual reality environment. He also underwent physical training to recondition and strengthen his muscles. The participant has been paralyzed for 5 years. He also practiced walking while suspended off the ground over a 19-week period.

Next, the researchers expect to conduct further testing to establish whether the device can be useful for the broader paraplegic population. The next refinement of the technology could include a brain implant to enable the control of the exoskeleton--as well as the introduction of sensation.

"Once we've confirmed the usability of this noninvasive system, we can look into invasive means, such as brain implants," said Dr. Zoran Nenadic, the senior lead researcher of the study, also from UC Irvine.

"We hope that an implant could achieve an even greater level of prosthesis control because brain waves are recorded with higher quality. In addition, such an implant could deliver sensation back to the brain, enabling the user to feel their legs," he concluded.

- here is the announcement
- and the full article from the Journal of Engineering and Rehabilitation

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