Tetraplegic walks again after becoming first in the world to operate robotic skeleton – with his BRAIN
A tetraplegic paralysed from the neck down is learning to walk again thanks to an incredible robotic skeleton – controlled by his THOUGHTS.
Rob Camm, 21, was paralysed in a car crash two years ago and left with no movement in his body just a week before he was due to start university.
The former rugby player spent months in hospital and was confined to a wheelchair and is reliant on a ventilator to help him breathe.
But thanks to an electronic robotic exoskeleton strapped to his body he has been able to walk again for the first time.
The amazing machine uses 79 electrodes attached to his skull which read signals in his brain and converts them into movement.
Rob, of Berkeley, Glos., has become the first tetraplegic in the world who uses a ventilator to breathe to use the wearable robot, called Rex.
He said: “It effectively does what it says on the tin really.
“It is a robotic thing you sort of sit in, is the closest thing I can explain it as, and then you’re strapped into it and it moves and you’re strapped into it so you move with it.
“In terms of controlling it, most people use a joy stick to control it but I can’t.
“What they wanted me to do first was to imagine Rex walking, and imagine the process that it goes through.
“So, left leg up, left leg forward, left leg down, and so on – that was the mapping bit, so Rex knows what to listen for.
“It listens for that, and I think that [about walking] when I’m controlling it and it does it.
“I have no idea how it works at all.
“People that are a lot more clever than me have worked that out.
“It is just amazing to just be thinking about doing something, and then actually doing it.
“It’s a real experience. For me just walking itself is unusual and then controlling the walking myself as well – I don’t know how to describe it properly to be honest.
“The strange thing is looking down at your toes from that high up and seeing them moving.
“When you haven’t been doing that for white a while, it’s just a strange experience to see your feet moving underneath you.”
Sporty Rob had just played his final rugby match for his local team Dursley RFC when he was involved in a car crash in September 2013.
He was just days away from starting pre-season rugby training at York University where he was due to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics.
The accident left him paralysed from the neck down and he spent 96 days on his back at the intensive care unit at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol.
He was then transferred to a specialist unit in Salisbury, Wilts., and within weeks was able to sit up in a wheelchair for 15 minutes a day.
Eventually he was allowed home, and in April this year started working with experts at Rex Bionics in the UK and Rome to try out their ‘exoskeleton’.
The amazing machine sees a cap placed on Rob’s head which is covered in 79 electrodes which are filled with ultrasound gel.
Rob then thinks about the process of walking and the cap picks up signals from his brain through his skull, and then ‘maps’ them.
Next time he thinks the same ‘walking thoughts’, the cap picks up the signals and relays them to a computer in the exoskeleton, which is attached to his torso and legs.
It decodes the signals and sends them to the legs of the machine – which is powered by hydraulics – and steps forward as he thinks about making the movement.
The machine – one of just 17 in the world – is kept at a specialist unit in Northampton which Rob can visit.
“To see my toes and my feet move forwards it was something,” Rob said.
“For the past two years I haven’t seen that really so it’s very unusual and it’s quite enjoyable to see your body moving in that way.
“It was nice getting up and going over to Rome.
“I never thought I would be there that early on.”
It is hoped that as the technology advances, one day the machine will be more reliable, and even controlled through eye movements and under-skin implants.
Rob is the first person in the world without use of all four limbs, who uses a breathing machine, to use the exoskeleton.
Rob said: “It’s harder for me using things like that because the only muscle control I have got is my head.
“Normally a person would use their chest and their back to help stay upright, where as I have got to try and balance with my head.
“20 years ago mobile phones were big clunky things and now we have iPhones and things.
“The difference in 20 years is big.
“If you think that’s what they can do now [with the exoskeleton] think in 20 years what could be possible.”
Rob is raising money for charity SpecialEffect by doing a Tough Mudder race in an all-terrain wheelchair driven by chin controls next month.
SpecialEffect enable disabled people to use a computer with any part of their body that works and the charity gave Rob one during his time in hospital.
To donate visit: www.justgiving.com/Rob-Camm or text ROBCAMM – or another amount you want to sponsor – to 70070.