The Mind-Controlled Exoskeleton Is Here:
A Dream of Walking
By M Dee Dubroff / Inventor Spot
The use of exoskeletons, robotic devices that fit around hips and legs,
are part of a burgeoning and complex technology whose surface has only
barely been tapped over the course of the last decade.
called "brain-computer interface systems," research has been geared to
helping the disabled regain mobility control via a blend of robotic and
brain power. Reserachers at Korea University and the Technical
Unversity of Berlin have developed new and exciting technologies that
allow paraplegics to control a robotic exoskeleton by using their minds.
In 2011, a woman immobilized after suffering a stroke lifted a
cup with a robotic arm she maneuvered via her thoughts. The following
year, another woman under similar circumstances ate a piece of
chocolate and gave the 'high-five' to a few associates via a
mind-controlled robotic arm. In June of 2014, a twenty-nine-year old
paraplegic man from Brazil named Juliano Pinto became the first person
in the world to kick off the World Cup using a mind-controlled robotic
How does the new mind-controlled robotic
Twelve years of research have developed the latest technology, which
involves a dark EEG cap covered with electrodes that is placed on the
head of the user. The cap identifies 'flashing lights' researchers in a
recent study referred to as "steady-state visual evoked
potentials"(SSVEPs). Five light-emitting diodes (LEDS) flash via a
small controller that extends from the exoskeleton into a myriad of
patterns, which represent specific commands. When a user focuses on one
of the LEDS, each of which has a different frequency, the exoskeleton
identifies the brain signal and moves the suit in various directions.
How is this new exoskeleton different
from the others?
Perhaps the most important difference between the current exoskeleton
and those that came before it is the fact that former mind-controlled
robotic devices required invasive brain surgery and the implantation of
tiny electrodes into the patient's brain. The brain computer
interface developed by researchers at Korea University in Seoul and the
Technical University (TU) of Berlin does not. The cap connects the
subject's brain to the exoskeleton and records electrical activity
(brain waves) which are plotted onto a chart.
In a paper entitled: "A Lower Limb Exoskeleton Control System
Based On Steady State Visual Evoked Potentials" that was
published in the Journal of Neural Engineering. Klaus Muller, professor
of computer science and lead author, outlined the reserach involved in
the creation of the mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton.
In his own words he told Live Science: "This work is robust and
intuitive because the interface still works even though the exoskeleton
creates all kinds of electrical signals that could interfere with a
person's brain signals. And it's intuitive because, despite all the
steps involved in the brain-controlled process, it's actually pretty
simple to get the exoskeleton to do what you want it to do."
The future of the mind-controlled
The brain-computer interface is not without its problems. For one
thing, it is sometimes difficult out of all the brain's activity for
the suit to identify brian signals for movemment. Also, headaches often
result from the visual fatigue of staring at the interface's flashing
lights for extended perods of time. More expensive clinical trials are
in the future and the cost of this exoskeleton is a very big obstacle.
Getting insurance companies to cover the cost, even though
results can be drastically life-altering, is the hardest part and
patients being forced to bear the brunt of expenses is simply not
feasable at this point.
But researchers are definitely on the right track and the future lot of
the disabled looks much brighter than it used to.
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