Neural control could one day allow patients who have lost limbs, especially their legs, to think about control of robotic prostheses. For many years, research teams around the world have been working on projects to develop exoskeletons to help people with disabilities walk.
These are usually computer controlled devices that users can attach to their legs. Most of these devices are designed to automatically reproduce preprogrammed cyclic movements. Scientists are therefore planning to manufacture robotic prostheses that can perform complex movements.
A motorized structure coupled to a neural interface
Such is the case of a research group that recently published a study in the journal Wearable Technologies. As reported by Futurism, it has developed a system designed to enable a person who has lost their feet to walk again, while performing actions that no other artificial leg can perform before.
To make this possible, the team relied on a concept that includes a motorized structure, a neural interface, and sensors whose job it is to read the user’s thoughts in order to translate them into movements.
A major breakthrough that will likely benefit a lot of people
In other words, the system works thanks to a real-time interpretation of the information sent from the brain to the feet. It would offer a much larger range of motion and more control compared to other exoskeletons in existence.
A major breakthrough that many people could benefit from. Photo credit: North Carolina State University
According to the IEEE Spectrum, despite the fact that it took a lot of physical therapy to allow the user to control the motorized prosthesis with their thinking, this work is a huge step forward in efforts to help disabled people walk.
A promising technology
According to the study’s lead author, the tests showed particularly promising stability and control while standing. It was found that the person wearing the prosthesis during the attempts could sit up on their own and squat to pick up any objects left on the floor.
As if that wasn’t enough, she could walk very realistically and smoothly for a person wearing an exoskeleton. Note that the team plans to test the technology on more volunteers soon to assess their actual skills.