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Paralyzed Man Is Able To Walk Again Using Brain-Controlled Exoskeleton

One quadriplegic man has been given the incredible opportunity to walk again, thanks to a revolutionary exoskeleton that is entirely controlled by the mind.

According to BBC News, French researchers believe the success of the suit could mean it will one day brighten the lives of equally immobile patients, giving them the ability to freely move around without being restricted to a wheelchair.

The 30-year-old man, known only as Thibault, donned the robo-suit, which he said made him feel like the "first man on the moon."

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Using only his brain signals, he was able to operate, maneuver, and walk inside the full-body suit.

While his movements weren't exactly perfect, researchers called these early results "promising" in a press release.

So how exactly does this fancy suit work?

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In order to use his mind to control the exoskeleton, Thibault had to undergo surgery to have two implants placed on the surface of his brain, covering the parts which control the body's movement.

Each implant has sixty-four electrodes that read the brain activity and transmit the instructions to a nearby computer.

The advanced computer software then analyzes the information and instructs the suit to move as the wearer desires.

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Prior to actually using the exoskeleton, Thibault practiced by first controlling a virtual character in a video game with his new implants. Then, after he'd gotten the hang of that, he moved on to the robo-suit.

It's been two years since the French man has been able to freely walk on his own, and he said the experience was incredible.

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After a tremendous fall left him paralyzed, Thibault hasn't been able to get around on his own. The exoskeleton gave him that freedom back.

"I forgot what it is to stand, I forgot I was taller than a lot of people in the room," he told BBC News.

It took longer for Thibault to learn how to use the suit's arms than the legs.

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He 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."

The exoskeleton weighs over 140 pounds and is attached to the ceiling to prevent the wearer from falling over. Right now, Prof. Alim-Louis Benabid said, the suit does not have the "quick and precise movements" to stop someone from falling.

While it's not perfect and doesn't restore all function, it's certainly an incredible advancement.

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The French scientists behind the suit say they want to continue to refine the technology and would like to eventually include finger control, so someone like Thibault could pick things up with the exoskeleton's hands.

That being said, some experts are wary of getting too far ahead of ourselves about the suit while its still in such an early stage.

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Prof. Tom Shakespeare, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said it's too early to get excited about this technology: "A danger of hype always exists in this field. Cost constraints mean that hi-tech options are never going to be available to most people in the world with spinal cord injury."

While he agreed the study is a "welcome and exciting advance," he said it still has a long way to go.

h/t: BBC News

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