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“˜Brain Cap’ Could One Day Control Prosthetic Limbs

July 28, 2011

Researchers have developed a “Brain Cap” technology that allows users to turn their thoughts into motion.

Researchers from the University of Maryland have created a non-invasive, sensor-lined cap with neural interface software that could be used to control computers, robotic prosthetic limbs, motorized wheelchairs and digital avatars.

“We are on track to develop, test and make available to the public- within the next few years – a safe, reliable, noninvasive brain computer interface that can bring life-changing technology to millions of people whose ability to move has been diminished due to paralysis, stroke or other injury or illness,” Associate Professor of Kinesiology Jos© ‘Pepe’ L. Contreras-Vidal of the university’s School of Public Health said in a press release.

The team demonstrated that people wearing the EEG brain cap could achieve performance levels comparable to those by subjects using invasive implanted electrode brain computer interface systems. 

“We are doing something that few previously thought was possible,” said Contreras-Vidal.

“We use EEG [electroencephalography] to non-invasively read brain waves and translate them into movement commands for computers and other devices.”

The team successfully used EEG brain signals to reconstruct the complex 3D movements of the ankle, knee and hip joints during human treadmill walking. 

They showed similar results in earlier studies for 3D hand movement and that subjects wearing the brain cap could control a computer cursor with their thoughts.

The team is collaborating with other researchers to develop thought-controlled robotic prosthetics that can assist victims of injury and stroke.

“There’s nothing fictional about this,” Rice University co-principal investigator Marcia O’Malley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, said in a statement. “The investigators on this grant have already demonstrated that much of this is possible. What remains is to bring all of it — non-invasive neural decoding, direct brain control and [touch] sensory feedback — together into one device.”

The team’s brain cap technology is being paired with a DARPA-funded next-generation robotic arm designed by John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory researchers.

Contreras-Vidal says the use of the device in stroke victims offers exciting possibilities. 

“By decoding the motion of a normal gait,” Contreras-Vidal says in a press release, “we can then try and teach stroke victims to think in certain ways and match their own EEG signals with the normal signals.”

The team published results from the brain cap technology in the Journal of Neurophysiology.

Image Caption: Harsha Agashe, a Ph.D. student in Contreras-Vidal’s lab wears the Brain Cap, a non-invasive, sensor-lined cap with neural interface software. Photo Credit – John Consoli, University of Maryland.

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