Innovations for paraplegics: mind-controlled robots and wheelchairs, electric skin and more

By End the Lie

While some researchers continue to focus on creating new technologies with some disturbing applications like mobile phone microchips capable of seeing through walls and militarized hallucinations courtesy of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), thankfully not all scientists are devoting their time and intellectual prowess to less-than-admirable projects.

Indeed, recently a paralyzed individual at a hospital in Sion, Switzerland tested out a groundbreaking new device which allows paraplegic persons to control robots from a remote location using only their mind.

The man sent a mental command to a computer in front of him using a tight-fitting cap outfitted with electrodes known as a g.GAMMAcap which was then transmitted to another computer which controlled a small robot some 37 miles away in the town of Lausanne.

Jose Millan, a professor at the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne specializing in non-invasive interfaces between machines and the human brain, developed the system, which could have many more promising applications.

The Telegraph reports that Millan has stated the same exact technology can also be used to control a wheelchair.

“Once the movement has begun, the brain can relax, otherwise the person would soon be exhausted,” Millan said.

However, he did admit that the technology is limited at this point. Currently, the brain signals can be scrambled en route if too many individuals are standing around the mind-controlled wheelchair.

The promise and potential applications of this type of technology, known as neuroprosthetics or neural prosthetics, does not end with mind-controlled robots and wheelchairs, which is already quite a feat indeed.

Researchers have said that neuroprosthetics could actually be used to assist patients recover their lost senses.

One professor Stephanie Lacour and her research team are currently developing what they’re calling an “electric skin” for amputees.

Composed of a glove outfitted with small sensors, the device would send information and feedback directly to the user’s nervous system in an attempt to replicate the feedback of actual flesh.

Lacour says that researchers hope to eventually be able to create completely mechanized prosthetic devices which would be as mobile and sensitive as a natural human hand for amputees and other disabled patients.

Even more amazing, other researchers working at Lausanne are currently developing technologies which could actually help paraplegics be able to walk once again thanks to electrodes implanted in their spine.

“The goal is that after a year of training with a robotic aide, the patient will be able to walk without a robot. The electrodes would stay implanted for life,” Professor Gregoire Courtine of the Experimental Neurorehabilitation Laboratory at the Rehabilitation Institute and Technology Center Zurich explained.

Courtine said that they are currently in the process of establishing clinical trials. He added that they aim to begin tests at the Zurich University hospital within a year.

These developments and similar technologies are truly inspiring. Personally, I find it somewhat disturbing that our government (and the private sector as well) is pouring unimaginable sums of money into wartime technologies which don’t even end up being used like the airborne laser program not to mention sectors like the behemoth surveillance industry and other Big Brother technologies when we could be alleviating suffering instead of causing it.

I guess it just goes to show what the priorities of the U.S. government and major corporations really are: profit and control above all.

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