The field of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) is expanding rapidly. We have already seen the development of BCIs to control computer programs, and move prosthetic hands and arms. Now, scientists at the University of Houston in Texas have developed a BCI that can control robotic legs.

According to a report in the UK’s Daily Telegraph, electrical and computer engineering expert Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal and his team are developing a BCI that will give users the ability to control prosthetic legs using just the power of thought. The researchers are currently testing their system on a robotic exoskeleton developed by New Zealand based Rex Bionics.

The exoskeleton, known as REX®, is the world’s first self-supporting, independently controlled exoskeleton designed to help mobility impaired users to walk. The device is independent of crutches or walking frames and can provide its own stability, which means the user’s hands are free. The exoskeleton is fitted with four double-tethered straps, an abdominal support and upper harness so it is safe and secure. It is made from hospital standard materials, such as pressure relieving padding, designed for the ultimate comfort.

REX® is powered by means of a rechargeable battery, which allows the user to walk for more than two hours with just one charge. Because of its stabilizing technology, the device doesn’t consume any power when the user is just standing.

Users control the current model by means of a simple waist-high joystick control, which allows them to stand, sit and turn, but the application of Contreras-Vidal’s BCI system could make a big difference to the device. In the coming years, this technology may enable people who are completely paralyzed to use the robotic legs as a means of autonomous locomotion.

The company has no immediate plans to produce a commercially available version.

Image credit: mediadpublicbroadcasting.net

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