Interview: Thought Controlled Exoskeletons

As I blogged about last week, scientists in Houston, Texas will soon be conducting clinical trials on an exoskeleton controlled completely by thought. This is exciting for two reasons. First a thought controlled exoskeleton could allow someone with no upper body movement, for example a quadriplegic with a very high spinal cord injury to operate an exoskeleton. Second, a thought controlled exoskeleton could one day achieve physiological-like movement, something that current exoskeletons will probably never achieve.

Here is a video of Dr Contreras-Vidal and the thought controlled Rex Exoskeleton:

I contacted Dr. Jose L. Contreras-Vidal and he agreed to answer a few questions about this exciting work:

* What are the main challenges that you are facing?

There are several challenges in bringing this technology to the clinic and the home. They include demonstrating safety and efficacy in a controlled clinical trial with patient volunteers -a requirement to gain FDA approval. We expect the use of the exoskeleton technology to result in both brain and body adaptations resulting in an overall improvement in health/well being, e.g., bladder function, bone density/strength, cardiovascular health, etc. We also need to improve the form-factor and usability so that patients can 'put on' the device easily and rapidly. Moreover, it is likely that several device models will be optimized to specific clinical populations, including pediatric. In summary, we are making the 'first steps' in this exciting and meaningful research.

* Do you believe that a thought controlled exoskeleton could achieve a physiological movement in the near future? For example, can it stand up, sit down, climb stairs, step sideways, etc? Or is something like that years off?

Our exoskeleton system is already functional in that it can sit, stand-up, turn left or right, climb stairs up/down all while self-balancing.

* How soon could it be before a thought controlled exoskeleton could reach the market?

Hard to predict given the challenges; however, given the non-invasive nature of the approach, which reduces greatly the risk to the user, we hope to be able to fast-track the system through the FDA approval process within a few years. This includes making the system available in parts, for example, we think the exoskeleton alone can be brought to the clinic within a year, whereas it may take a bit longer to bring the system for use a home. The thought-controlled exoskeleton would take a bit longer given the added complexities and testing to be done.

* I have read that clinical trials of thought controlled exoskeletons will start in Summer? Do you have a date yet? Do you know when it will finish?

We are working on this and will be in touch. Our current target date is late Summer.

* How many subjects will you have?

We will aim for 15 users with various degrees of physical/gait impairment

* Are you looking for subjects? If so, how can volunteers be included?

Once we are ready to start the studies we will advertise for recruitment, most likely in our webpages (see below) and through the Texas Medical Center.

* Any chance of some videos of a thought controlled exoskeleton? I would love to see this in action.

I can make this available later this summer.

* How can we keep up to date of what is going on so I can write about it. How can we do that?

Follow me in the social media,

Here are our official websites:

Read more about exoskeletons for wheelchair users.


  1. There is another interesting project in the EU:


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