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‘I think and then I walk’: UCI experiment marks the first time a paraplegic walks by brain control

Original article featured on The Orange County Register

BRAIN COMPUTER INTERFACE LAB/UCI
Adam Fritz, center, walks using brain-computer interface technology. Due to a spinal cord injury, Fritz has paralysis in both legs.

After a motorcycle crash paralyzed his legs, Adam Fritz never stopped thinking he would walk again.

Those very thoughts, aided by new technology, activated a first-of-its-kind experiment in which Fritz’s brain waves enabled him to walk a 12-foot course inside a UC Irvine research lab.

The 29-year-old insurance claims adjuster spent countless hours thinking about walking so that his brain waves could be recorded. His thoughts were then decoded by a computer algorithm, which in turn directed his first step, bypassing his damaged spinal cord to fire the muscles in his legs.

“I think and then I walk. It was incredible,” Fritz said. “It gives you that hope for the future.”

The experiment marked the first time a paraplegic has walked through brain control, according to a UCI study published in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation in September.

While promising, the possibility of widespread use of the technology is still at least two decades away, researchers said.

“This is a significant first step,” said UCI neurologist An Do, one of the lead researchers. “It’s a good starting point to see if this is something that’s going to work in a larger population of people.”

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