Thirty year old Thibault, who does not want his surname to be revealed, was an optician before he was left paralysed after a fall of 15m from a night club. His spinal injury left him spending the next two years of his life in hospital, completely unable to move his arms or legs.
That was until he took part in a clinical trial ran by biomedical company Clinatec at Grenoble Alpes Hospital.
It involved Thibault wearing a 65kg exoskeleton connected to two implants placed on his brain’s outer membrane, with the areas the implants covered controlling his motor functions. These implants respond to Thibault’s neuronal activities, and these responses are sent to a computer which controls the exoskeleton. As a result, when Thibault wants to move one of his limbs, all he has to do is think about it, and the exoskeleton will respond to his commands.
Thibault said he felt like the “first man on the Moon” after taking his first steps.
The electrodes placed on Thibault’s brain are still active after 27 months, representing a major development in this type of medical technology.
However, there is still a way to go. Thibault’s exoskeleton is attached to the ceiling by a harness, so he is not able to walk completely independently just yet. Equally, the computers used in this trial cannot keep up with all of Thibault’s movements. The suits are also very expensive currently. Altogether, the general use of exoskeletons to improve the quality of life of quadriplegics is still a bit off, but the trial demonstrates that we are certainly moving in the right direction.
There is some concern though about the less virtuous use of exoskeletons. The US military is currently investing in exoskeleton technology in the hope to allow soldiers to be ‘fresh’ when it comes to battle, while still being able to carry all their equipment (which often weighs around 53kg).
However the military end up using this technology, we can most assuredly say that its development can greatly benefit the lives of quadriplegics across the world.