Thibault (last name undisclosed) has been working with Clinatec and the University of Grenoble after an unfortunate accident left him paralyzed. The 30 year old has been practicing the movement of his limbs inside an exoskeleton which he controls via the electrodes linked to his brain.
Although this groundbreaking suit is still at a very developmental stage, its creators believe that it is an important stepping stone towards improving the quality of life for these types of cases.
How does it all work?
After surgically placing a couple implants onto the areas of Thibault’s brain that are responsible for managing movement, the 128 electrodes detect the signals in the brain and transfer the readings to a computer that can translate and convert the data into commands to move the exosuit. Controlling the arms is a bit more difficult than the legs, as they are based on more complex motions.
Referring to the arm movements, Thibault said, “It was very difficult because it is a combination of multiple muscles and movements. This is the most impressive thing I do with the exoskeleton.”
Four years ago, Thibault suffered damage to his spinal chord after falling almost 50 feet (15 meters) at a night club. He was stuck in hospital for the following two years.
Thibault began the trial back in 2017 where he started out by utilizing the implants in his brain to direct a digital character in a PC game before advancing to the exoskeleton.
“It was like [being the] first man on the Moon. I didn’t walk for two years. I forgot what it is to stand, I forgot I was taller than a lot of people in the room,” said Thibault.
The 143lb (65kg) suit is nowhere near ready to be used beyond the lab. Thibault has to remain connected to the harness on the ceiling to reduce the chances of him toppling over.
“This is far from autonomous walking,” said the president of the Clinatec Executive Board, Professor Alim-Louis Benabid. “He does not have the quick and precise movements not to fall, nobody on earth does this”.
In performing more complex actions such as reaching for particular items by using the whole arm, including rotating his wrist, Thibault was triumphant more than 70 percent of the time.
Benabid, who also worked on deep brain stimulation for Parkinsons, says, “We have solved the problem and shown the principle is correct. This is proof we can extend the mobility of patients in an exoskeleton.”