UH Moment: "Robot Legs"

New research at the University of Houston bring humans and machines together to impact the lives of those with spinal injuries.  Here’s this week's UH Moment. 

It looks and sounds like something from the movie The Transformers—bulky, robot legs are strapped onto a participant.   They buzz and hum as he adjusts to the machine and does something he hasn't done in two-and-a-half years: walk.  

Steve Holbert is paralyzed from the waist down.  He is testing a new noninvasive brain-machine-interface that eventually will allow him to control his robot legs with his brain.  

Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal, director of the Laboratory for Noninvasive Brain-Machine Interface Systems at the University of Houston"We are attacking the problem of brain injury by providing new solutions to problems related to the brain, like disability," said Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal, director of the Laboratory for Noninvasive Brain-Machine Interface Systems at the University of Houston.  His research is in collaboration with The Methodist Hospital.  

The idea of capturing the brain's intention to move isn't completely new, but research to this point has relied on invasive technologies, such as electrodes implanted in the brain.  Contreras-Vidal's research uses the noninvasive scalp electroencephalogram to record brainwave activity.  

"The electrode cap is like a swimming cap with 32 sensors, which acquire and measure brain activity thatescapes the scalp," he said.  "The signals are recorded, teaching the computer what the different brain signals mean, ultimately used to control the machine."

Until the computer "learns" what the brain waves mean, Holbert uses a joystick to maneuver himself in the robot legs as he walks across the room.  

"Just to stand up feels great," he said.  "It's a good start.  I definitely have hope."

Jose Luis Contreras Vidal is part of what's happening at the University of Houston.