Local Advocate cautiously optimistic after brain-controlled robotic suit help paralyzed man walk

ByABC7.com staff and Kris Reyes via KGO logo
Saturday, October 5, 2019
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It's not science fiction: A man who is paralyzed from the shoulders down is now able to walk using a mind-controlled robotic suit.

SAN MATEO, Calif. (KGO) -- A man, paralyzed from the shoulders down, is now able to walk using a mind-controlled robotic suit. It may sound like science fiction, but it really happened in France.

The man, identified only as Thibault, severed his spinal cord after falling from a balcony.

University of Grenoble researchers implanted recording devices in his head that can transmit signals into movements, which are then executed by a robotic exoskeleton.

Fonds de dotation Clinatec

For two years, Thibault has been using a video game avatar to help it understand his thoughts.

Over the course of the study, he was able to walk the distance of more than one and a half football fields.

Scientists say the technology is an experimental treatment that could help others, after it's improved.

Just like the Thibault, Ligia Andrade Zúñiga is a quadriplegic. She says it's the first time a technology like this could apply to her. Other exoskeletons have focused only on movement from the waist, down.

"It's very encouraging, that it's inclusive of me because it does include a larger population of spinal cord injuries," she said, "It is a game-changer, it helps with bowel bladder, it helps with posture, it helps with circulation and not only that but a little bit of freedom."

Researchers may call this a breakthrough, but they're warning the machine won't be widely available or affordable just yet. That's a concern for Andrade Zúñiga, who works as a policy advocate for people with disabilities all over the Bay Area. She has reservations about the innovation's message.

"I would be a little concerned about ableism, I don't want people to need to create all of these things just so people can walk. Your value is as a human being with attributes that no one else has," said Andrade Zúñiga.