The kick-off the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, during the Opening Ceremony, on June 12, will be the most exciting moment for scientists working in developing a mind controlled exoskeleton, the robotic armor that supports from the outside the body... (you can read my previous post including a Twitter conversation with Professor Nicolelis; Italian version).
This month the Mayo Clinic Proceedings published a “concise review” of the state of the art in the Brain Machine Interface and limb reanimation technologies by Lobel D.A., Lee K.H., Brain Machine Interface and Limb Reanimation Technologies: Restoring Function After Spinal Cord Injury Through Development of a Bypass System.
“To date, signal processing algorithms have been designed for asynchronous BMI [Brain Machine Interface] control, however, no complete BMI systems have produced a sufficient online efficiency rate with a low enough false-positive rate to provide a reasonable clinical safety profile.”
Moreover, as explained by Lobel and Lee, current BMI systems are not able to capture activity in subcortical pathways.
“Therefore, details regarding how the signals are delivered to motor neurons to effect simple limb movements, such as flexion and extension of specific muscles, as well as more complex movements such as gait, will have to be surmised from experimental ISMS [IntraSpinal MicroStimulation] studies”.
On June 12, a paraplegic person will kick the first ceremonial ball of the FIFA World Cup, wearing a mind controlled exoskeleton. This seemingly simple action requires the movement of a leg, the alternation of the two legs, the kick-off and the postural balance of the exoskeleton.
It will be hard to achieve. On one hand, the experimental research on mind controlled exoskeletons is at an early stage in humans and, on the other hand, it's more likely that restoring function after spinal cord injury will be based, in the future, on the integration of different technologies.
The aims of restoring neurological functions and helping individuals with paralized limbs, need to be accomplished by engineering new technologies that can be used safely, effectively and at any time, at home.
Lobel and Lee hypothesize that a major challenge in this direction is the development of a bypass system combining BMI and limb reanimation systems.
“Because both the BMI and ISMS systems are in relatively early stages of development, we are afforded an opportunity to tailor the design of combined bypass systems to include functions such as providing sensory feedback that will maximize the benefit for patients with SCI [Spinal Cord Injury]”.
Experimental studies need funding. Thus, an Opening Ceremony, celebrated worldwide, represents a unique advertising opportunity to show an ambitious research project, although in the very early stages of its evolution.
It will also be a great moment of awareness if and only if the message and the media coverage will be able – and deem convenient - to distinguish the aims of experimental research and its applications that are strictly limited to the laboratory, from the aims of clinical rehabilitation that provides behavioral treaments and technological systems proven effective for improving everyday functioning in the real life.
In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.
The easiest way to explain this idea is to contrast it, for example, with advertising. Richard Feynman