Researchers from the University of Minnesota have developed a new technology that allows people to control a robotic arm with the help of their minds. This breakthrough might help millions of people who suffer from neurodegenerative diseases or are paralyzed.
The researchers say that people will be able to move the robotic arm just by imagining moving their arms. Now we can use the thoughts to operate a robotic arm in a complex environment too.
This technique is known as electroencephalography (EEG), which is based on a brain-computer interface. The electrical activity of the patient’s brain is recorded through a specialized, high tech EEG cap fitted with 64 electrodes. Then the thoughts are converted into action by using signal processing and advanced machine learning. It was tested in 8 people where they were asked to wear an EEG cap for the experimental study. They gradually learned how to control a robotic arm by using their imagination.
The participants slowly learned how to control a robotic arm for grasping and reaching the objects at specific locations on a table. After a while, they were able to move the robotic arm to reach and grasp objects at random locations on a table. This was achieved by only thinking about these movements.
This technology works as it controls the motor cortex. When we think about moving or move, the neurons in the motor cortex produce minute electric currents. In this study, researcher Bin He has used functional MRI. He has noted that the brain-computer interface was possible by using advanced signal processing for distinguishing between the different groups of neurons activated by various movements.
Since there was a high success rate in a group of people, it has given new hopes for people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases as well as paralysis. They weren’t even sure that they would be able to achieve this kind of success before starting the project.
Bin He expects to expand the research on brain-computer interface technology. It might involve attaching prosthetic limb to a patient that can be controlled by the brain.