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How is a paralyzed man using technology to walk again?

Answer: With a “brain-to-computer interface.”

Closeup of a circuit board.
Twelve years after Gert-Jan Oskam was left unable to use his legs after a biking accident, he can now walk up to just over 300 feet at a time. The technology that allows him to do so is a “brain-to-computer interface” or BCI. Unlike external spinal cord stimulation, the BCI system that Oskam uses works by directly translating his thoughts into movement through surgically implanted electrodes and just a little external hardware.

First, electrodes just inside his skull pick up on his thoughts when he wants to get up and walk. They transmit that information to an antenna headset he wears, which then sends it on to a backpack on his back. The pack translates that data into movement through spinal stimulation. The result is a much more fluid and natural process of movement because it originates from Oskam’s own brain and not an external system.

“The introduction of the BCI has enabled this thought-controlled walking, which is smoother, more natural,” said Dave Marver, CEO of Onward, which is working on commercializing the research of Switzerland-based NeuroRestore, which treated Oskam and developed the system he uses. “He’s able to pause, he’s able to traverse more complex terrain, he’s able to climb stairs.”