April 16, 2013

When Wheelchairs Become Obsolete-Thought Controlled Exoskeleton Availble By 2015?

At the world cup of soccer summer of 2014 Neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis expects to unveil to
the world his thought controlled robotic exoskeleton. Back in 2011 he went on The Daily Show and told Jon Stewart that he would develop a robotic body suit that would allow paralyzed people to walk again simply by thinking about it — and he’d do it in just 3 or 4 years.

Some neuroscientists in the field of Brain computer interfaces think his claim is premature and fear that if it fails it could hurt funding for other BCI projects by promising too much too soon. There is also the issue of safety for the user of the device. 

On the other hand if he does pull it off he would cause a lot of attention to this field and attract tons of research funds or even private money.

If history is an indicator the scientists who promote their inventions the most successfully have enjoyed the most success financially.  compare Tesla vs Edison and you'll get an idea. BCI researchers who fear Nicolelis failing should maybe lend a hand too make sure he succeeds then the whole field in general would benefit.

If you think that he is bonkers then you should consider that right now there have been many successful projects with Brain computer interfaces  that allow paralyzed humans to move a computer cursor or even use a robotic arm to pick up a piece of chocolate or touch a loved one for the first time in years. In another recent example In December, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh published a case study in The Lancet of a 53-year-old woman named Jan Scheuermann who was paralyzed from the neck down by a genetic neurodegenerative condition. Scheuermann learned to control a nearby robotic arm after surgeons implanted a small grid of electrodes in her brain.

A recent video on 60 minutes show here moving the arm in 3 dimensions and uses it to grasp and move objects, stacking several plastic cones. It cost DARPA more than $100 million to develop, and its hand and fingers can do almost everything the real deal can. Scheuermann’s movements are slow and sometimes faltering, but they are astonishing nonetheless. After all, she’s controlling the arm just by thinking about it. And she’s making the most sophisticated movements yet made by a human being with a brain-controlled prosthetic.

Recently this year in an interview with a wired magazine reporter he stated that "“We’re getting close to making wheelchairs obsolete,” 

Nicoleius speculated that the next big leap in BCI performance will come from 2 kinds of advances:

1)Being able to gather information from a larger number of neurons. The researchers at Duke currently have the highest amount at around 500 neurons. With great numbers of neurons being read they can acheive greater fluidity of movements.

2)incorporating tactile feedback.In 2011, his team broke new ground by demonstrating a neural prosthesis with an artificial sense of touch in monkeys. Electrodes implanted in a brain region responsible for the feeling texture enabled the monkeys to identify different virtual objects by “feel.”
Sensors on the exoskeleton will eventually feed directly into the brain in a similar manner to provide crucial feedback on the position of the limbs and when the feet hit the ground, Nicolelis says. “None of these robotic devices will work for real without tactile feedback,” he said. “You can’t walk without knowing where the floor is.“ The extent to which sensory feedback will be ready for the World Cup demo remains to be seen.
Nicolelis’ team is currently training the two monkeys to sit in the harness and let their legs go limp so the exoskeleton can do its thing. A few months from now the whole system will be subjected to a sterner test: Researchers will temporarily paralyze the legs of a monkey with an injection, and the primate will then try to transfer what it’s learned from playing with the avatar to control the exoskeleton with its thoughts. If it goes according to plan, the monkey will walk on the treadmill.
Gordon Cheng, the roboticist who is developing the physical exoskeleton at the Technical University of

Munich in Germany admits that the deadline is tight. “We have bits and pieces of different prototypes being built and tested, we even have a complete mockup built,” he said. “We’re pushing it.”
By design, the exoskeleton will use a mix of signals. “If the signal from the brain is very good, the brain will take control. If the signal from the brain is not so reliable, the robot can take over more of the control,” Cheng said. “This is mainly to guarantee safety.”
Nicolelis says his colleagues in Brazil are currently combing a database of thousands of patients to identify 10 for initial training. Their ideal profile: a smallish young adult, no more than 70 kilograms (roughly 150 pounds), whose injury isn’t too new or too old. Like the monkeys in the lab at Duke, the trainees will start by learning to control an avatar on a computer screen, but with brain signals recorded by non-invasive EEG electrodes to start. Then, if the plan stays on track, one brave recipient will go under the knife to receive electrode implants in his or her motor cortex.
Article by Dave Drinkwalter for Emerging Tech Trends for Transhumanism
Based on article form wired magazine

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