Every year, there are 11,000 people across all of Europe that suffer a spinal cord injury (SCI). In hopes of improving the quality of life for all SCI patients, a team of researchers is working to create a groundbreaking new exoskeleton, dubbed the “MINDWALKER.”
Led by Dr. Michel Ilzkovitz of Space Applications Services, the MINDWALKER orthotic enables mobility through a combination of technologies, including: an EEG-powered Brain/Neural Computer Interface, to personalize the system based on a user’s gait; upper limb EMG processing, to coordinate natural arm swing with the exoskeleton’s leg motion; and a Center of Mass detection unit, to recognize trunk oscillations while walking and swing the leg forward.
“This assistive technology cannot be developed just using one discipline,” said Dr. Yuri Ivanenko of Fondazione Santa Lucia. “It requires the cooperation of engineers, neurophysiologists, roboticists, and clinicians.”
Dr. Ivanenko’s role in this cooperation focuses on processing EMG signals into commands for the exoskeleton. Using the Delsys Trigno Wireless System, Dr. Ivanenko recorded EMG data in the deltoids and ACC data in the legs to investigate the relationship between upper limb muscle activity and leg kinematics.
In a complimentary study, Dr. Ivanenko sought to investigate whether the guidance forces of an exoskeleton influenced the sensory interactions and resulting muscle activity during stepping.
While the MINDWALKER project was successfully completed, researchers plan to conduct further studies to propel the MINDWALKER into the realm of conventional assistive devices.
“The competitors are not the other exoskeletons, but the wheelchair,” said Dr. Marco Molinari of Fondazione Santa Lucia. If the researchers can coordinate the body’s biosignals with an affordable, functional system, he said, “then we can really dream of getting a better mobility system than the wheelchair.”
- La Scaleia, Valentina et al. “Control of Leg Movements Driven by EMG Activity of Shoulder Muscles.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 8 (2014): 838. PMC. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.
- Sylos-Labini, Francesca et al. “EMG Patterns During Assisted Walking in the Exoskeleton.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 8 (2014): 423. PMC. Web. 18 Nov. 2014.