Study data show paralysis patients can control robot using thoughts

A multi-year study, aiming to allow those with paralysis remotely control a robot using their thoughts, has produced positive results, according to data recently published in Proceedings of the IEEE.

A team of researchers at the Defitech Foundation Chair in Brain-Machine Interface (CNBI) conducted the study with nine disabled patients and 10 control participants in Italy, Germany and Switzerland.

Each participant wore an electrode-studded brain-machine interface capable of analyzing their brain signals during the course of multiple weeks. The participants then instructed the robot to move, transmitting their instructions in real-time via the Internet from their home country, according to a press release.

Using its video camera, screen and wheels, the robot, located in a laboratory of Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, was able to film and display its movements via Skype.

The user could take breaks from giving indications to avoid getting overly tired; however, the robot was able to avoid obstacles and continue on the indicated path until told otherwise, the release said.

In the second part of the tests, the disabled group of patients with residual mobility were asked to pilot the robot with movements they were still capable of doing, such as pressing the side of their head against buttons placed nearby.

“Each of the nine subjects with disabilities managed to remotely control the robot with ease after less than 10 days of training,” José del R. Millán, CNBI professor and lead author of the study, said in the release.

Findings showed no significant differences between the control and disabled groups, according to the release.

The results bring a close to the European project TOBI, or Tools for Brain-Computer Interaction, which began in 2008. Researchers believe this project could give a measure of independence to individuals with paralysis, but “for this to happen, insurance companies will have to help finance these technologies,” Millán said.

Reference: Millán J, et al. Proc. IEEE. 2015; doi:10.1109/JPROC.2015.2419736.

Disclosure: Millán reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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