The day is coming when a paralyzed person will walk into a room wearing wearing an exoskeleton under their clothes and no one will know it. What is required to get there? First, a smaller and quieter exoskeleton than the big, noisy ones now coming to market. Second, technology which will allow the exoskeleton to be controlled in the same way that legs are controlled, by thought.
A great deal of work is being done in the area of brain controlled exoskeletons. At Brown University, a robotic hand is being controlled by the thoughts of a quadriplegic subject, named Cathy Hutchinson, who has been unable to use her hands for 15 years. Watch how Cathy is controlling the robotic hand only by her thoughts:
However, in order to control that exoskeleton, Cathy has had to have an electrode implanted in her brain. Having anything implanted in your brain is quite risky and far from ideal.
So, it is very exciting news that a mind controlled exoskeleton is being developed by other researchers which does NOT require anything to be implanted. Instead, electrodes in a skull cap worn on the head sense the desired movements as can be seen in this video:
Dr Contreras-Vidal of the University of Houston, in Texas is working together with the manufacturers of Rex Exoskeleton to develop an exoskeleton which will be controlled by thought. Why is this important? The current exoskeletons under development are controlled by "force and motion" sensors, a joy stick or sensors on the skin. None of these types of sensors are ideal and none will be able to offer physiological gait or natural movement. Imagine having to push a button in order to climb stairs, sit down or break into a run. Not only that, but a thought controlled exoskeleton will allow quads and others with little or no upper body control to be able to use exoskeletons. Soon, we will publish an exclusive interview with Dr. Contreras-Vidal about his thought controlled exoskeleton. In the mean time, read more about exoskeletons for wheelchair users.