The WIMAGINE BCI implants translate electrical impulses in the brain associated with movement and transfer them into actions performed by an exoskeleton. (Image credit: Clinatec via Lancet YouTube video)
Several years ago, French optician Thibault took an almost 50-foot fall at a nightclub, broke his neck, and became paralyzed from his shoulders down. Thibault recently regained his ability to walk using an exoskeleton he can control using his mind, or rather the electrical signals the brain uses for movement. Scientists from the biomedical research center Clinatec and the University of Grenoble have developed sensors that are implanted on the brain’s outer membrane that record movement signals. That data is then translated using algorithms that drive the exoskeleton.
Clinatec’s WIMAGINE 64-channel ECoG (ElectroCorticoGram) BCI (Brain-Computer Interface) features 64 electrodes with selectable gain and sampling frequencies and is powered remotely through an inductive link (up to 100mW). The implants work by taking the user’s movement impulses, which are digitized, then sent wirelessly to a custom base station connected to a PC. The data is processed and piped to a 4-limb exoskeleton EMY (Enhanced MobilitY) unit, allowing the users to move their arms and legs.
The process of learning to pilot the exoskeleton is a long one, as the scientists began working with Thibault a few years ago to map his brain as he thinks about moving his body. Those maps then train a system he practiced using to pilot an avatar on a display. Once he could successfully control the avatar, he was then strapped to the exoskeleton, which was tethered to the ceiling, and was able to make the machine walk. While the system is nowhere near ready for medical use, the researchers hope that their technology will one day help those who are paralyzed move wheelchairs and other apparatus with their minds.
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