Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Mind over body: new hope for quadriplegics

12.03.2008
Around 2.5 million people worldwide are wheelchair bound because of spinal injuries. Half of them are quadriplegic, paralysed from the neck down. European researchers are now offering them new hope thanks to groundbreaking technology that uses brain signals alone to control computers, artificial limbs and even wheelchairs.

People left paralysed by spinal injuries or suffering from neurodegenerative diseases could regain a degree of independence thanks to a new type of non-intrusive brain-computer interface, or BCI, developed by the MAIA project.

Using electrical signals emitted by the brain and picked up by electrodes attached to the user’s scalp, the system allows people to operate devices and perform tasks that previously they could only dream of. So far, the team, led by the IDIAP Research Institute in Switzerland, has carried out a series of successful trials in which users have been able to manoeuvre a wheelchair around obstacles and people using brainpower alone.

“We have demonstrated that it is possible for someone to control a complex mechanical device with their minds, and this opens up all sorts of possibilities,” says MAIA coordinator José del R. Millán.

Though BCIs, for people with impaired movement and for other uses, have been under development for many years, they have had varying degrees of success, largely because of the difficulties of turning brain signals into accurate mechanical movement. What sets the EU-funded MAIA system apart is that it does not rely on the human brain alone to do all the work, instead incorporating artificial intelligence into the device being used.

Intelligence meets artificial intelligence
A person using the MAIA BCI to control a wheelchair, for example, only has to think about going straight ahead or turning left and the chair follows their command. However, they do not have to worry about colliding with obstacles – even moving ones such as people – because the wheelchair itself monitors and reacts to its environment.

“A user can tell the chair to go straight ahead, but it will not just randomly roll in that direction if there is a wall or a flight of stairs in the way,” Millán notes. “What we have done is combine the intelligence of the person with the artificial intelligence of the device.”

In a sense, the artificial intelligence embedded in the chair acts much like a human’s subconscious. People, for example, do not consciously send commands to every muscle in each leg in order to walk and do not think where to step to avoid an obstacle – they do it subconsciously. Similarly, a wheelchair-bound user of the MAIA BCI simply has to send the signal to go in a certain direction and the chair figures out how to get there.

But the user always stays in control!

Keeping the user in control
“We wanted to see how much of the movement was down to the user’s brain signals and how much was due to the intelligence of the chair. It turned out that the wheelchair intervened between 10 and 40 percent of the time depending on the user and the environment.

“In one demonstration in which someone was manoeuvring the chair for six hours, the computer intelligence kicked in more frequently later on as the person became increasingly tired and made more mistakes,” Millán says.

Importantly, the chair can recognise from the user’s brain signals if it has made a mistake, and, through tactile devices similar to the vibrators used in mobile phones, it can send feedback to users about the direction they are going that enhances their sense of awareness beyond the visual.

Millán notes that the same technology could be applied to artificial limbs to allow quadriplegics to pick up objects or unlock a door. By using the BCI to interact with computer systems, meanwhile, they could control the lighting in their homes, surf the internet, or change the channels on the TV. Those simpler brain-computer interactions, which have the potential to become the basis for commercial systems sooner, will be the focus of a follow-up EU project called TOBI that is due to begin in September and which will also be led by Millán.

“For a wheelchair, such as the one developed in MAIA, to reach the market would take extensive trials to prove that the technology is robust enough. We can’t have it breaking down when someone is in the middle of the street,” Millán notes.

Carrying out such validation trials remains a goal of the project partners who are actively seeking further funding and investment to continue their work.

Christian Nielsen | alfa
Further information:
http://cordis.europa.eu/ictresults/index.cfm/section/news/tpl/article/id/89624

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht 'Living bandages': NUST MISIS scientists develop biocompatible anti-burn nanofibers
16.02.2018 | National University of Science and Technology MISIS

nachricht New process allows tailor-made malaria research
16.02.2018 | Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

Im Focus: Interference as a new method for cooling quantum devices

Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters

Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

'Lipid asymmetry' plays key role in activating immune cells

20.02.2018 | Life Sciences

MRI technique differentiates benign breast lesions from malignancies

20.02.2018 | Medical Engineering

Major discovery in controlling quantum states of single atoms

20.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>