March 8th, 2013
10:57 AM ET

Making mind-controlled exoskeletons a reality

Miguel Nicolelis is a professor of neurobiology at Duke University. For more on Nicolelis and his work, watch "The Next List" this Sunday at 2:30 pm ET on CNN.

Dr. Miguel Nicolelis: “In our lifetime, we will see a paralyzed person walking the streets of New York or Sao Paulo.”

Who he is: Nicolelis is a neuroscientist and pioneer in the brain-machine interface, a technology that allows people and animals to interact with computers and other artificial devices using nothing but their thoughts. It may sound like a scene out of "2001: A Space Odyssey," but it’s happening today in the Nicolelis Lab at Duke University’s Center for Neuroengineering. That’s where primates spend hours each day playing video games just by thinking about them.

Why he matters: By decoding the electrical signals of the brain, then sending them to artificial devices, Nicolelis has blazed a trail in an emerging field called neuro prosthetics.   His goal: to help paralyzed people walk again. In just 18 months, he plans to “shock the world” by unveiling his mind-controlled exoskeleton - a sort of “wearable robot” - at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  There, with hundreds of millions of soccer fans looking on, a paralyzed teenager will don the exoskeleton to literally kick off the opening ceremony and, Nicolelis hopes, teach the world that science knows no bounds.

Nicolelis is not the only neuroscientist to experiment with mind-controlled prosthetics. But he insists his brain-machine interface can engage far more brain cells,  or neurons, than others have even attempted. The result is a more finely tuned prosthetic, one that sends motor commands while simultaneously receiving sensory information: touch, for example, and temperature. These are the signals that help us make sense of our world.

For that teenager at the World Cup, it means she’ll not only walk across the soccer pitch, she’ll feel every step she takes. FULL POST

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