Tuesday, May 29, 2018

HAL in 2018

Assistive devices have been gaining a lot of ground recently - literally, in some cases.  HAL, a “hybrid assistive limb” developed by the Japanese company Cyberdyne, is one of the latest of these devices.  However, HAL is a bit different from most robotic legs.  Instead of walking for you, it relies on your brain to do the work.  HAL is designed to respond to the wearer’s intended motion.  This means that when you think about wanting to walk, sensors connected to HAL detect signals sent from your brain to the muscles that are trying to help you take steps.  When the robotic legs walk with you as your brain sends the signals, the correct signals for your own walking are reinforced (see a visual at Cyberdyne's website here).

This is a way of taking bio-feedback to a practical level.  Part of the challenge in recovering from spinal cord injuries is retracing neural pathways.  The brain needs to be guided back to finding the correct responses.  In other words, when you see your limb moving as you are commanding it to move, your brain comes closer to detecting what signals actually make that movement happen.   

HAL has just recently been tested in the United States.  It was approved for use by the FDA in December 2017.  Swedish Medical Center in Seattle is the first place to try HAL, and users there have seen good results so far.  The trend is likely to continue.  The more this type of technology becomes available, the more potential for neurological improvement and recovery after SCIs. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Graduation Note

A short note of congratulations to graduates Ty Williams and Greg Murphy!  Each one has a spinal cord injury but used leg braces to walk across the stage for his diploma.  Much harder than it looks.