A man has been able to move all four of his paralysed limbs with a mind-controlled exoskeleton suit, French researchers report.
Thibault, 30, said taking his first steps in the suit felt like being the “first man on the Moon”.
His movements, particularly walking, are far from perfect and the robo-suit is being used only in the lab.
But researchers say the approach could one day improve patients’ quality of life.
Thibault had surgery to place two implants on the surface of the brain, covering the parts of the brain that control movement
Sixty-four electrodes on each implant read the brain activity and beam the instructions to a nearby computer
Sophisticated computer software reads the brainwaves and turns them into instructions for controlling the exoskeleton
in 2017, he took part in the exoskeleton trial with Clinatec and the University of Grenoble.
Initially he practised using the brain implants to control a virtual character, or avatar, in a computer game, then he moved on to walking in the suit.
“It was like [being the] first man on the Moon. I didn’t walk for two years. I forgot what it is to stand, I forgot I was taller than a lot of people in the room,” he said.
It took a lot longer to learn how to control the arms.
“It was very difficult because it is a combination of multiple muscles and movements. This is the most impressive thing I do with the exoskeleton.”
“This is far from autonomous walking,” Prof Alim-Louis Benabid, the president of the Clinatec executive board, told BBC News.
In tasks where Thibault had to touch specific targets by using the exoskeleton to move his upper and lower arms and rotate his wrists, he was successful 71% of the time.
Prof Benabid, who developed deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease, told the BBC: “We have solved the problem and shown the principle is correct. This is proof we can extend the mobility of patients in an exoskeleton.
At the moment they are limited by the amount of data they can read from the brain, send to a computer, interpret and send to the exoskeleton in real-time.
They have 350 milliseconds to go from thought to movement otherwise the system becomes difficult to control.
It means out of the 64 electrodes on each implant, the researchers are using only 32.
So there is still the potential to read the brain in more detail using more powerful computers and AI to interpret the information from the brain.