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The Mind-Controlled Exoskeleton Is Here:
A Dream of Walking Becomes Reality


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.
 
Originally 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 exoskeleton.

How does the new mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton work?

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 robotic exoskeleton

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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