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 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
“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
The genes are not to blame
20.07.2018 | Technische Universität München
Targeting headaches and tumors with nano-submarines
20.07.2018 | Universitätsmedizin der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.
The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
20.07.2018 | Information Technology
20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences