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December 8th, 2015 at 10:30 am

The paralyzed move again with mind-controlled robot suits

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What began as simple testing on rats and monkeys is now the opportunity for the paralyzed to move again. The minds behind these new mind-controlled robot suits are proving anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

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Chances are, your body and brain operate seamlessly with each other. You decide to move your big toe, say, and a split second later, it moves. But even a simple toe-twitch isn’t easy for people who’ve been paralyzed. Which is why Miguel Nicolelis, a neuroengineer at Duke University, has been developing exoskeletons that translate electrical signals from the wearer’s brain into mechanical instructions. Basically, mind-controlled robot suits.

Each thought in your brain is a set of neurons firing—what Nicolelis calls a “brainstorm”—and that barrage of signals makes it tricky to tease out the ones that code for movement. Nicolelis’ lab started small, harnessing the mental power of monkeys and rats. (In this video, even a monkey gets an adorable robo-scooter suit, which it uses to fetch food from across the room.) Now that he’s got the basics down, though, Nicolelis is strapping paraplegics into his suits, which read the patients’ intentions with EEG caps and move accordingly.

That’s cool, because these suits could help paralyzed patients regain some measure of independence and feel less helpless. “Once you get the brain outside the physical limits of the body,” Nicolelis says, “the limit is the imagination.” Cheesy, maybe. But Nicolelis has seen his share of inspirational moments: A patient kitted out in one of his suits helped kick off the 2014 World Cup.

Image Credit: smithsonianmag.com (Danilo Borges/World Cup Portal)
Article via wired.com

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