Home News In 2014 World Cup Mind-controlled exoskeleton prepares to kick off

In 2014 World Cup Mind-controlled exoskeleton prepares to kick off

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Mind-controlled exoskeleton for World Cup 2014 - Technepal.x10.mx

It’s showtime for the 2014 World Cup. On Thursday, one of the eight partially paralyzed men and women who have been training with Miguel Nicolelis’ robotic, mind-controlled exoskeletons will stand up from their wheelchair and make the opening kickoff. The technology used to do this springs from a close collaboration between Nicolelis the neuroscientist, and electrical engineer Gordon Cheng. Together they lead the Walk Again Project which now promises to make history.

The collaboration has its origins in a gimmicky demonstration from 2008. Signals recorded from one of Nicolelis’ lab monkeys at Duke were used to control one of Cheng’s humanoid robots in Kyoto over the internet. The demonstrations spawned a number of copycat experiments where so called brain-to-brain interfaces were set up between different animals, and even humans. Since then Nicolelis has made one notable advance after another towards building workable brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) and understanding how the brain will adapt to them.
Iron-Man-Suit

 

In particular, some of his recent milestones include: Simultaneously recording from over 1000 single neurons (potentially up to 2000) with multi-electrode arrays; giving rats the ability to feel infrared light; advancing our knowledge of how the somatosensory cortex of primates incorporates virtual avatar arms into the existing body schema; and even more esoteric stuff like making fundamental insights into the computability of the brain.

The above experiments may sound slightly removed from the harsh realities of spinal injury, but they are anything but. Last Friday, swimmer and six-time Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken severed her spine in an ATV accident in Arizona. The injury, at the level of the 11th vertebrae in the thoracic spine, is precisely the kind trauma the potential wearers of the new exoskeleton suit all have. For this iteration of the suit there will be no internal 1000-electrode arrays, only surface-recorded EEG signals. But with some of the other advanced tech that the suit has, that’s all that will be needed for the task at hand.

Cellularskin

One crucial part of the suit is an artificial skin recently developed by Cheng (now at the Technical University of Munich). Known as “CellulARSkin” this smart material has integrated sensors and actuators to provide feedback about the suit and its movements to the wearer. The elemental components of CellulARSkin are hexagonal electronics packages that include a microprocessor and sensors for touch proximity, pressure, vibration, temperature and three-dimensional motion. The signals generated by the sensors are fed back to a network of tiny motors embedded in the material and wrapped around various parts of the body — places like the arms that can still feel and therefore sense the motors.

The suit itself is reminiscent of the Sarcos exoskeleton developed by Ratheon. While it does not need to have the full hydraulic power capabilities of the Sarcos suit, certain Iron Man type features may be desirable. In fact the suits to be worn by the police who will be on patrol at the World Cup event are not too shabby themselves. As shown in the picture below, they might even give RoboCop a run for his money.

Robo

There is certainly a lot more to be said here about this technology, but it may be wise to wait until tomorrow and let the suit itself do the talking — and then we can make our comments.

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