Paolo Bonato, Ph.D., was Chair of the Organizing Committee for the Unconference on Rehabilitation Robotics. In this video clip, Dr. Bonato shares his expectations of advances in the fields of neuroengineering and neural rehabilitation that we may see in the next 10 to 20 years.
What are some of the breakthroughs we’ll see in the next ten to twenty years?
My field of research is at the intersection of neural engineering and neural rehabilitation. In this field because of the focus on patients with mobility limitations in which their motor system, either centrally or peripherally has been compromised, and if you think centrally it would mean strong chordoma brain injury. If you think peripherally it would mean spinal chord injury or peripheral neuropathy or a condition that affects the peripheral nervous system.
In this field what we want to do is to recover function and augment function when recovering function is not a possibility. So the break through that I’m hoping is going to occur over the next ten to twenty years is that as engineers we will have the capability of plugging into the central peripheral system in a way that is “palatable” from a clinical point of view. What we have at this point in time are techniques that are suitable to run experiments but they have very limited clinical applicability because they are very complex and because we don’t have the capability to gather enough information from the nervous system both centrally and peripherally to in fact, attach to the body or integrate into the body where we see now as robots and more robotic appendages if we want to that perhaps in the future that will be developed in different ways and by doing so allowing patients in fact to control its hardware that will be integrated with their body eventually over time and actually achieve improvement of motor functions in these individuals.
So I think that’s a process that’s going to take a long time because we don’t have enough knowledge on the system right now to do a good job because the technology is not truly, fully ready to provide us with that type of capability. Robots for instance are developing at the speed of light at this point in time.
The technology that we had available ten years ago it was absolutely cumbersome and impossible to use to facilitate function. My group is testing, in two weeks from today in patients, an exoskeleton design by engineers at Berkeley that managed to spin off a company that’s now piloting essentially technology that allows patients after a spinal cord injury, to get back on their feet.