Robots that can read and respond to brain waves will eventually help stroke patients regain movement, using new neural interfaces that can re-train damaged motor pathways. Neuroscientists have made great strides in brain-machine interfaces that can respond to a person’s thoughts -- a new generation will drive a non-invasive robotic orthotic, retraining the patient’s own body.
Patients who have suffered a stroke or other injury can lose the active use of their limbs, rendering them unable to simply think about moving an arm or hand and then do it. Sometimes it’s possible to re-establish the lost connection, with time and repetitive physical therapy. Researchers at Rice University are using a robotic exoskeleton and a neural interface to improve matters.
The project has already successfully reconstructed three-dimensional hand and walking movements from brain signals, according to a Rice news release. Now a $1.17 million grant from the National Institutes of Health and the president’s National Robotics Initiative will test it on 40 patients over the next two years.