As of yet, paraplegics cannot run the 400-meter dash against Oscar Pistorius at the Paralympics, but a robotic suit may change that. The suit, controlled by a cap that the user wears on their head, is operated by brainpower - and can give paralyzed people the ability to walk.
The suit comes from a team at the University of California, Irvine, which published a paper on the suit in arXiv. The legs were tested on an anonymous, able-bodied man, who was able to use them to walk and stop for 30 seconds at a time over the course of 10 minutes. Because the device is mind-operated, instead of the other methods used by prostheses, the legs can be used by the fully paralyzed.
The device, called the BCI RoGO System (which doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but I don't have any suggestions), is still in the early stages of development and still has its kinks. For example, it takes about five seconds for it to start and seven seconds for it to stop, which could be a problem if a person is in a crowded area or standing next to a steep cliff.
In addition, at this stage of development, the suit can only identify when a user wants to stop or start walking. It cannot do any of the other things that we take for granted with our legs, like sitting or even speeding up our gait. It also sometimes succumbs to "false starts," starting to move even though the user did not will it to do so.
The team had worried that the suit would be difficult for walkers to use without being used to working with brain-controlling interfaces, so they asked the participant to practice controlling an avatar with his mind for five hours. While that may seem a long period of training, once he was in the suit, it brought the period of training down to five minutes.
Maybe it is not as good as having the opportunity to use your own legs again, but it's certainly an impressive start.
The video can be seen below; the man begins walking at around the 1:05 mark.
Published by Medicaldaily.com