Stroke patients get helping hand from ‘telepathic’ robot arm which can respond to your thoughts

By Eddie Wrenn

PUBLISHED:06:24 EST, 3  September 2012| UPDATED:06:24 EST, 3 September 2012

 

Stroke patients who have lose the use of  their arms could find a helping hand in the form of a robotic arm that can  ‘telepathically’ respond to your thoughts.

The research, led by Rice University and the  University of Houston, has led to an exo-skeleton which covers the arm from  fingertips to elbow and can help perform simple tasks, as well gently assisting – and sometimes resisting – movement to build strength and  accuracy.

The new neurotechnology will interpret brain  waves using an EEG neural interface, which can read thought patterns and assign  them to movements.

A University of Houston (UH) graduate student tests MAHI-EXO II, the robotic rehabilitation device which aims to help spinal-cord-injury patients recoverA University of Houston (UH) graduate student tests  MAHI-EXO II, the robotic rehabilitation device which aims to help  spinal-cord-injury patients recover

Repetitive motion has proven effective at  retraining motor nerve pathways damaged by a stroke, but patients must be  motivated to do the work, said principal investigator Marcia O’Malley, an  associate professor at Rice and director of Rice’s Mechatronics and Haptic  Interfaces Lab.

She said: ‘With a lot of robotics, if you  want to engage the patient, the robot has to know what the patient is  doing.

‘If the patient tries to move, the robot has  to anticipate that and help.

‘But without sophisticated sensing, the  patient has to physically move – or initiate some movement.’

Mechanical marvel: The arm will eventually cover the entire arm - from elbow to fingertip - to help aid movementMechanical marvel: The arm will eventually cover the  entire arm – from elbow to fingertip – to help aid movement

The team led by José Luis Contreras-Vidal,  director of UH’s Laboratory for Noninvasive Brain-Machine Interface Systems and  a professor of electrical and computer engineering, was the first to  successfully reconstruct 3D hand and walking movements from brain signals  recorded in a noninvasive way using an EEG brain cap.

The technology allows users to control, with  their thoughts, robotic legs and below-elbow amputees to control neuroprosthetic  limbs. The new project will be one of the first to design a BMI system for  stroke survivors.

Initially, EEG devices will translate brain  waves from healthy subjects into control outputs to operate the MAHI-EXO II  robot, and then from stroke survivors who have some ability to initiate  movements, to prompt the robot into action.

That will allow the team to refine the  EEG-robot interface before moving to a clinical population of stroke patients  with no residual upper-limb function.

When set into motion, the intelligent  exoskeleton will use thoughts to trigger repetitive motions and retrain the  brain’s motor networks.

An earlier version of the MAHI-EXO II  developed by O’Malley, already in validation trials to rehabilitate  spinal-cord-injury patients at the UTHealth Motor Recovery Lab at TIRR Memorial  Hermann, incorporates sophisticated feedback that allows the patient to work as  hard as possible while gently assisting – and sometimes resisting – movement to  build strength and accuracy.

The technology allows users to control, with their thoughts, robotic legs and below-elbow amputees to control neuroprosthetic limbsThe technology allows users to control, with their  thoughts, robotic legs and below-elbow amputees to control neuroprosthetic  limbs

‘The capability to harness a user’s intent  through the EEG neural interface to control robots makes it possible to fully  engage the patient during rehabilitation,’ Contreras-Vidal said.

‘Putting the patient directly in the “loop”  is expected to accelerate motor learning and improve motor  performance.

The EEG technology will also provide valuable  real-time assessments of plasticity in brain networks due to the robot  intervention – critical information for reverse engineering of the  brain.’

The three institutions bring unique  perspectives to the project, O’Malley said. Rice’s robotic devices and UH’s  neural interfaces will make it possible for TIRR Memorial Hermann, led by Gerard  Francisco, director of the UTHealth Motor Recovery Lab, to facilitate  translational research to fast-track engineering findings into clinical  practice.

‘This is truly an outstanding opportunity to  demonstrate how various technological advances can potentially boost traditional  rehabilitation therapies,’ said Francisco, chief medical officer of TIRR  Memorial Hermann and professor and chairman of physical medicine and  rehabilitation at UTHealth.

‘What makes this initiative even more  exciting is that the NRI recognized the value of our collaborative effort by  awarding the this grant to multiple principal investigators. This project will  be among the first to investigate the benefits of combined therapeutic  interventions to help stroke survivors.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2197537/Stroke-patients-helping-hand-telepathic-robot-arm-respond-thoughts.html#ixzz25QWty3MT