A pioneering trial in the UK is empowering a stroke survivor to walk unaided using AI-powered trousers.
Julie Lloyd, 65, is trialing “NeuroSkin” trousers, which utilize AI-controlled electrodes to activate her partially paralyzed leg.
Ms. Lloyd is among the first people to try NeuroSkin outside of France, where they’re developed. As Lloyd describes, “My leg is almost feeling as if it’s being guided.”
After initially sensing an unusual “tingling feeling,” Ms. Lloyd soon found herself walking without assistance for the first time in half a year. She stated, “[My leg] was suddenly propelled up from the floor and made me feel safe walking, and that’s the part that I’ve honestly not felt at all with all the physio I’ve had.”
Ms. Lloyd suffered a minor stroke in January, leading to partial paralysis in her left arm and leg. A former marathon runner, Lloyd persevered until she could walk 3,000 steps a day with a cane. She was then offered a trial of NeuroSkin in collaboration with a local clinic.
Rudi Gombauld, the CEO of Kurage, the Lyon-based company behind NeuroSkin, elaborated on the technology, “The smart garment is like a second skin which means that you have sensors that can feel how the brain works and have all the sensory information to send to an artificial intelligence system.”
The AI processes the data from these sensors and is housed within a wearable vest. As the patient takes steps, the AI captures the brain’s signals to the unaffected leg and mirrors those impulses to the paralyzed one, restoring a more natural gait.
NeuroSkin is not necessarily designed for daily use – its primary aim is aiding patients in rehabilitating by re-forging the repetitive movements required to walk. The technology is currently leased for around £5,000 per month.
Reflecting on the potential of NeuroSkin, Ms. Lloyd expressed, “I really feel this is the breakthrough for stroke victims that has been much and long awaited for.”
How it works
So how does NeuroSkin work, and how does AI enable it? As per Kurage’s website:
- Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES): Kurage employs an innovative technique called functional electrical stimulation, which artificially recreates signals for muscular contractions.
- NeuroSkin design: The NeuroSkin is described as a prosthesis that fits like a second skin. It’s equipped with both sensors and neuromuscular electrical stimulation electrodes.
- AI integration: The sensors and electrodes in NeuroSkin are powered by AI. The AI model is designed to reproduce functional movements in the skin, addressing deficiencies in the user’s movements – also called a sensorimotor loop.
- Application: Specifically, for individuals with neuromotor disorders like medullary injuries where the link between muscles and the brain is disrupted, NeuroSkin technology can artificially recreate crucial signals, enabling individuals to walk more naturally.
NeuroSkin joins a host of technologies aimed at rehabilitating injuries and diseases, including an interface device that enables a paralyzed man to move his legs again, experimental brain implants that re-link damaged parts of the brain and spinal cord to allow a paralyzed man to regain sensation in his limbs, and a mechanical leg that restored movement to an amputee.
In time, AI-powered rehabilitation may return near-natural movement and sensation to paralyzed limbs, meaning the impacts of stroke and injuries might no longer compromise people’s lives.