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The mind-controlled wheelchair

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The research project, also funded by the Ministry of Education and the Department of Information Engineering of the University of Padua, has made it possible to develop a mind-controlled wheelchair that could transform the lives of people with severe disabilities. In some experiments, quadriplegics paralyzed from the neck down were able to navigate crowded spaces using only their brains.

 

The three volunteers who participated in the study were made to wear skull caps equipped with electrodes. The 3 men controlled the direction of the wheelchair by thinking they were moving specific parts of the body, such as the hands to turn left and the feet to turn right. Meanwhile, the electrodes detected the electrical impulses to transmit them to the computer, which transformed them into digital motor commands . An algorithm, created by the scientists, was able to discriminate the models coded to “go left” from those to “go right”. The team identified improvements over time as a result of human and machine learning. All three volunteers underwent training sessions three times a week over a period of five months.

“We demonstrate that mutual learning of the user and the brain-machine interface algorithm are both important for users to successfully operate these wheelchairs,” says José del R. Millán, corresponding author of the study from the University of Texas in Austin, in a press release. The chair, described in the journal iScience, will help paralyzed patients gain new mobility.

“From the EEG results we see that the subject has consolidated the ability to modulate different parts of his brain to generate one pattern for ‘going left’ and a different pattern for ‘going right,'” says Millán. “We believe that there is cortical reorganization that occurred as a result of the participants’ learning process.”

 

Participants were asked to steer the wheelchair around obstacles such as a partition and hospital beds, which had been set up to simulate the real environment. By the end of the experimental study, two of the participants were able to steer their wheelchairs around a messy hospital room without assistance.

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  • Learning to control a BMI-driven wheelchair for people with severe tetraplegia. (cell.com)
 

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