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The Walk Again Project
October 6, 2011 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Body suit may soon enable the paralyzed to walk. "In a busy lab at Duke University, Dr. Miguel Nicolelis is merging brain science with engineering in a bid to create something fantastical: a full-body prosthetic device that would allow those immobilized by injury to walk again. On Wednesday, Nicolelis and an international group of collaborators declared that they had cleared a key hurdle on the path toward that goal, demonstrating they could bypass the body's complex network of nerve endings and supply the sensation of touch directly to the brains of monkeys."
posted by homunculus (37 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I read this comic. He'll become a super-villain, mark my words.
posted by Curious Artificer at 10:49 AM on October 6, 2011


"...bypass the body's complex network of nerve endings and supply the sensation of touch directly to the brains of monkeys."
So, I think this might have... other... uses. More commercial ones, perhaps.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:57 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Teledildonics 2.0, baby!
posted by griphus at 10:59 AM on October 6, 2011


This is an amazing thing. The big killer of those with spinal cord injuries, like me, is pressure ulcers developing on insensate skin. It killed Christopher Reeve, and I came close to kicking the bucket a few years ago because of it.

The cynic in me wonders if this is something that only wealthy paralyzed people will have access to. One of the things I miss is walking on the beach. Wheelchairs and sand don't mix, UNLESS you have a couple grand to blow on special sand tires.

With my insurer (Aetna medicare) the standard for medical equipment is whether or not it allows you to get from your bed to the bathroom. So I'm not very hopeful that I'll ever get the monkey-brain treatment. Happy for those who do, though.
posted by angrycat at 10:59 AM on October 6, 2011 [19 favorites]


Exo-man! The ex is for execrable.
posted by Xoebe at 11:03 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Obvious link [NSFW, maybe?]
posted by Ryvar at 11:09 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Full-body prosthesis?
posted by adamrice at 11:16 AM on October 6, 2011


The cynic in me wonders if this is something that only wealthy paralyzed people will have access to.

I imagine the liability of "someone might fall over" will be the big hurdle to getting this to market. But if they can sort that out, if they can get insurers on board, then they would want to go for the largest market possible.

I haven't read the article yet, but I assume they'll focus on disabled military vets while working on approval.
posted by zippy at 11:27 AM on October 6, 2011


but I assume they'll focus on disabled military vets while working on approval.

That or mecha-soldiers.
posted by Hoopo at 11:31 AM on October 6, 2011


Exosquad!

Though, now that I think about it, developing these for disabled vets reminds me more of Iron Brigade (nee Trenched).
posted by kmz at 11:36 AM on October 6, 2011


The cynic in me wonders if this is something that only wealthy paralyzed people will have access to.

That was my thought too. I mean, hell, just getting a regular power wheelchair costs as much as getting a car. Which makes my SCI-self sad, because there are so many things I'd like to be able to do again that it sounds like this would facilitate.

One of the things I miss is walking on the beach. Wheelchairs and sand don't mix, UNLESS you have a couple grand to blow on special sand tires.

I haven't tried it myself (though my PT is doing her damnedest to wear me down), but if you have a rigid-frame manual chair the FreeWheel attachment is supposed to be able to support your chair over sand, snow, etc. I think the pricing's around $500, which isn't great, but not as bad as it could be, I suppose. I've been debating getting one myself because every time it snows I'm pretty much stuck in the house.
posted by clavier at 11:38 AM on October 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Not to mention getting over gravel. Gravel driveways are my archnemesis.
posted by clavier at 11:41 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


A self described "Brazilian moon shot" at unveiling a prototype 3 years from now = "soon"?
posted by nathancaswell at 11:44 AM on October 6, 2011


Clavier, wow, thanks for the info on the special tires. Until I got my knobby wheels, ice was the thing that I wanted to murder in its icy face.
posted by angrycat at 11:48 AM on October 6, 2011


The cynic in me wonders if this is something that only wealthy paralyzed people will have access to

No, we'll be providing power armor to anyone willing to fight in the off-world colonies.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:48 AM on October 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Although seriously, yes, the issue of rationing (by ability to pay or by anything else) for very expensive technologies is ethically very difficult with innovation in a world of exponential health care costs.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:55 AM on October 6, 2011


Now, trampling the scoffing skeptics beneath the mighty steel tread of your giant robot will be even more satisfying!
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:00 PM on October 6, 2011


Reminds me of The Winter Market (one of my favorite William Gibson short stories).
posted by Sidnicious at 12:07 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Will you touch my monkey?
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:13 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ryvar: Obvious link [NSFW, maybe?]

"Roboplegic Wrongcock"

This calls for a new sockpuppet account...
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:18 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would think that a big practical obstacle in this is power consumption. How close are we to having power density in batteries that can power a person around for a decent amount of time? Or will it have to be gas, which would be badass but relegate the user to an outdoor lifestyle?
posted by condour75 at 12:30 PM on October 6, 2011


"Hi, I'm Wilford Brimley and today I'll be showing you how to get your free, medicare provided Doctor Octopus backpack."

I mean, if they can hand out scooters like candy now, sure in the future they'll get a smaller subset of people legs. And allow me to throw my brain into a powered exosuit. I mean, who wouldn't want to live forever, unable to truly feel the sun on ones fake, metal skin?
posted by Slackermagee at 12:31 PM on October 6, 2011


Or unable to see a supernova through anything but 'these gelatinous orbs.' Also, prehensile paws.
posted by angrycat at 12:38 PM on October 6, 2011


I mean, hell, just getting a regular power wheelchair costs as much as getting a car.

As I understand it, each one of these suits will cost six million dollars.
posted by happyroach at 1:02 PM on October 6, 2011


Also, prehensile paws

Don't dingos already do this? We could just crib off them.
posted by Slackermagee at 1:10 PM on October 6, 2011


"...but I assume they'll focus on disabled military vets while working on approval."

"That or mecha-soldiers."


All of its other faults aside, the US military does invest serious cash into crazy awesome tech to help wounded veterans.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:38 PM on October 6, 2011


The appropriate name is, of course, Mechanically Augmented Neuro Transmitter Interception System.
posted by djb at 2:48 PM on October 6, 2011


I hope I never become paralyzed, but if I do, I want one of these for the sole purpose of programming it so I can moonwalk everywhere.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:10 PM on October 6, 2011


"...bypass the body's complex network of nerve endings and supply the sensation of touch directly to the brains of monkeys."

one step closer to bypassing my meatbody and connecting directly to the machine


I hope I never become paralyzed, but if I do, I want one of these for the sole purpose of programming it so I can moonwalk everywhere.

if we get full brain-computer interfaces our legs will become vestigial
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:56 PM on October 6, 2011


And when the rootkit botnets literally own us, we'll be unwilling soldiers in a rented merc army.

Good times.

(seriously cool tech, but lets disable external interfaces, eh? Air gap please).
posted by el io at 6:21 PM on October 6, 2011


I think a physical connection would be more intimate, and really reinforce the level of commitment to the machine.

Though if I decide to interact in meatspace having a wireless mental interface would be good.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:23 PM on October 6, 2011


Re: wealth--sadly, I think we already know the answer to this question. I am way over on the other end of the disability/technology spectrum, what with a relatively unexciting below-the-knee prosthetic leg, but my rock bottom model cost $10,000 worth of insurance reimbursements and it's about what I had as a kid in the 80s. The fancy legs like you see in the press are astronomical and even a nice middle-of-the-road model, with, say, better give in the ankle, is another couple of thou that my insurance wouldn't pay ($10K is the upper limit). Every time someone asks me why I don't have, like, a running leg, I want to hit them.

So yes. This is for the rich. But what the rich get in 20 years, regular people will get in, say, 50 or 60 (certainly this has proven true in prosthetic leg time).
posted by skbw at 7:00 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


The implications of this research seem to have been over-stated so far as I can see. But even if we take all that at face value, I think having permanent electrodes in the cortex is a pretty terrible idea.
posted by Segundus at 1:46 AM on October 7, 2011


Segundus,

It's a longstanding architectural argument -- do we interface with the brain destructively, or not? Two entirely different technical paths, with advantages and disadvantages to both.
posted by effugas at 7:03 AM on October 7, 2011


I would want to know if my "regular" function would be compromised by whatever cyborg-type stuff they implanted to make the new device work. IDNUAWC, I do not use a wheelchair, but I'm close enough to speculate that this might work best as a sometime thing for the foreseeable future (as in, I have a date Tuesday with an engineer, let me impress him).
posted by skbw at 11:39 AM on October 7, 2011


Cyborg News Special – 08-10-11
posted by homunculus at 2:29 PM on October 8, 2011


For a look at the 1885 cutting edge, see here (Google Books), including a moving dedication to Sir Joseph Lister, "the father of antiseptic surgery, whose labors mark a new era in the treatment of wounds."
posted by skbw at 8:09 PM on October 8, 2011


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