Thousands of people every year suffer spinal cord injuries and lose their ability to walk. An brain-controlled exoskeleton that moves a patient's legs could be one way to get some patients out of wheelchairs.
A multinational consortium led by Belgian company Space Applications Services has designed the Mindwalker, which is a frame - the exoskeleton - that attaches to the torso and legs and moves them as the wearer thinks about it.
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Unlike a bionic limb, the exoskeleton doesn't need to be linked with electrodes inside the body. Instead, it uses a simple cap that reads electrical signals from the brain. When the wearer thinks of moving, a certain pattern appears, which is interpreted by a computer as a signal to move.
The Mindwalker design uses a "dry" cap, which doesn't need special gels to boost electrical conductivity, so it is much more convenient to use than "wet" caps often used to study brain activity.
This concept is a bit different from the Ekso system, which works by registering shifts in weight, or the powered exoskeletons built for military use such as the Human Universal Load Carrier, which assist movement in people who have full use of their limbs. And unlike bionic limb designs, the Mindwalker bypasses the spinal cord and nerves - there's no need for attaching electrodes inside the body.