The Brisbane Times had an article last week about the development of hi-tech suits known as “exoskeletons”. These suits enable the wearers to carry heavy loads and/or travel further than they would otherwise be able to.
The article notes that the development of these suits is rapidly moving out of the research lab and into the world. While the biggest interest is from high-tech industrial manufacturing and the deep-pocketed military sectors, it also has interesting health applications. The most recent example was the Brazil 2014 World Cup, where a paraplegic man used such a suit to kick-off the tournament.
From the article:
[…] But perhaps the biggest leap forward in exoskeleton technology came at the start of this year’s FIFA World Cup.
Juliano Pinto, a 29-year-old paraplegic kicked off the tournament by using his mind to control the movement of his previously paralysed legs.
Unlike other exoskeletons, the technology developed by Duke University neuroscientist Dr Miguel Nicolelis does not require any other part of the body to make the exoskeleton move.
Rather, through thinking about the act of kicking the ball, Pinto was able to use his foot to kick the ball onto the field.
“It’s the first time an exoskeleton has been controlled by brain activity and offered feedback to the patients,” Dr Nicolelis said.
Dr Crocher hailed the technology as remarkable, not least because of the extreme concentration and fine tuning required for a paraplegic to make even one small movement.
“People don’t think with focus,” said Dr Crocher. “If a person wants to move his left leg, they might think about their left arm.”
So, maybe Iron Man might be a stretch, but I’m sure plenty of people will cope with just operating a suit that enables them to walk using their mind.