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Future of mobility could see use of mind-controlled exoskeleton

29th April 2013

A scientific development could change the future for those who cannot walk, or have difficulty walking, after research into mind-controlled exoskeletons has been coming on in leaps and bounds.

A team of researchers have been working tirelessly on the Mindwalker project for a number of years, investigating how a robotic exoskeleton can help those who use stairlifts regularly as part of daily life. Known officially as the 'mind-controlled orthosis and VR-training environment for walk empowering' project, funding from the European Commission has enabled researchers from Space Applications Services in Belgium to make considerable progress with the project.

The Mindwalker team have managed to create a light-weight robotic exoskeleton which uses a system based on 'brain-neural-computer-interface' (BNCI) technology, meaning that brain signals are able to bypass the spinal cord and are instead turned into electronic commands which control the exoskeleton.

The overall design of the BNCI technology and the exoskeleton have been created by the combined efforts of a number of institutions, including the Laboratory of Neurophysiology and Movement Biomechanics at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, the Foundation Santa Lucia in Italy, Berlin-based eemagine Medical Imaging Solutions and the universities of Twente and Delft in the Netherlands.

The light-weight exoskeleton weighs less than 30kg and can bear the weight of a 100kg adult, making it relatively light compared to other exoskeletons which have previously been developed. It has been described as "robust" and is powerful enough to recover balance from external causes of instability, such as a gentle push from behind or either side. 
 
Although the development of this exoskeleton and mind-control system has primarily been to help those who are paralysed or who suffer from spinal cord injuries, there are plans for it to be adapted and made simpler for other people who could benefit from extra mobility support, including astronauts who need to rebuild muscle mass and older people who would find extra support getting to and from walk in showers useful.
 
Trials of the system on able-bodied users will be completed by the end of the year before clinical trials will be carried out by people with spinal cord injuries, identifying any problems with the system which can then be improved upon before going any further. A fully-tested and widely available version of the mind-controlled exoskeleton is still a long way off, but until then a wide range of independent-living aids are still accessible to the public.
 
Image Credit: ericskiff (flickr.com)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericskiff/3050851724/

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.