Voluntary controlled exoskeleton

Mark Pollock and trainer Simon O’Donnell. Credit: UCLA

There have been a number of researches in the past 10 years, mostly funded by the military, to create exoskeleton that can assist human movement, eg to allow the carrying of loads for lengthy distances. A little bit, although way more complex, than what happens with an electric bike with assisted pedalling. 

In these experiment the exoskeleton is controlled by a computer that via sensors "feels" the movement of the person wearing it and order the appropriate actions to the motors relieving the effort of the person's muscles.

Now researchers at UCLA have demonstrated (see the clip) an exoskeleton that can be controlled by a person's nervous systems. The patient, Mark Pollock a former athlete that became blind several years ago and that continued to practice sport overcoming his limitations, fell from a second floor in 2011 and broke his spine leading to a paralyses of his lower limbs.

Using electrical stimulation at his spinal cord and sensors on the exoskeleton the patient has become able to control the exoskeleton and make thousands of steps. This does not just provide a kind of mobility, it also helps in stimulating his muscles.

It may seem a little, awkward walking but if you think that Mark was paralysed it is nothing short of magic. In the coming years I see a parallel race, on the one hand medical research to regenerated the severed nerves to reactivate the lost functionality and on the other sophisticated engineering to flank re-abilitation.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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