With exoskeleton technology, which was tried in a laboratory in France, a patient who had been paralyzed for two years moved his arms and legs.
30-year-old Thibault, who does not want to reveal his last name, said that two years later, taking his first steps was like “walking on the moon”.
Thibault, “I felt like the first person to set foot on the moon. I had never walked for 2 years. Standing how it feels, I forgot that I am one of the tallest people in a community,” he said.
Researchers emphasize that the development of this exoskeleton technology can one day drastically change the quality of life of disabled patients.
How is the brain and movement relationship established?
In an operation performed on Thibault, two parts were attached to the surface of the brain controlling the movement.
On each of the two parts placed in the brain, there are electrodes that can read the activity in the brain and beam the commands from the brain to a nearby computer.
Advanced computer software takes the waves coming from the brain and translates them into commands so that it can move the outer skeleton worn on the patient.
The skeleton is dressed so that Thibault can turn his brain commands into action.
When Thibault thinks of the idea of ”walking,” it turns into a series of commands that activate his legs.
Then he moves his arms in the same way.
Easy to use?
Thibault, who suffered a spinal cord injury by falling from a height of 15 meters in a nightclub accident 4 years ago and paralyzed, spent about 2 years in hospital.
In 2017, however, he volunteered for exoskeletal experiments conducted by the Clinatec laboratory of the University of Grenoble, France.
He learned to control a character or “avatar” in a computer-based game using the “reader” parts originally placed in his brain, then he was able to …
The hardest thing is learning to use your arms.
“It was very difficult because we needed to control the movement of many muscles. It was the most amazing work I have done with the exoskeleton,” Thibault says.
How successful is the exoskeleton?
The 65-kilos exoskeleton, which can be described as an advanced robot, does not restore the patient’s full mobility.
But among the similar technological approaches, it is the biggest advance so far in terms of controlling the movement of people’s thoughts and bodies.
To minimize the risk of falling with the exoskeleton on the Thibault, it must be held with a hanger attached to the ceiling. This means that the exoskeleton is not yet advanced enough to be used outside the laboratory.
“We are far from the action of walking on its own,” says Professor Alim-Louis Benabid, Clinatec Laboratory official, who spoke to the BBC.
“Thibault doesn’t have the quick and advanced reflexes needed not to fall. No one in the world can do that.”
To perform this experiment, Thibault had to move the upper part of his arm using the outer skeleton and achieve certain targets in turning his wrists.
Professor Benabid says Thibault is 71 percent successful.
“We have solved the problem and proved that the principle is correct. This experiment proves that we can improve the patient’s mobility with the use of exoskeleton. This is a step in the right direction to improve quality of life,” says Professor Benabid, who developed the deep brain stimulation technique used to treat Parkinson’s disease.
What’s the next target?
French experts say they can improve exoskeleton technology further.
Currently, the level of development of their discoveries is limited to the data that the plaques placed on the brain can read and send to the computer, and the computer translates them into commands and sends them to the external skeleton in real time.
It takes 350 milliseconds to change from thought to action, otherwise it’s hard to control the system.
That means there are 64 electrodes on each of the two plaques placed in the brain. Researchers are currently using 32 electrodes on each electrode.
Therefore, it has the potential to read the brain’s messages in more detail, to translate them better through more powerful computers and artificial intelligence.
There are also plans for Thibault’s ability to hold and move things using their fingers.
Thibault is already checking his wheelchair with his mind.