Brain Cap Changes Thought into Motion

Prosthetic limbs controlled by thought

(RxWiki News) A new "brain cap" sounds futuristic, but the device will allow patients who have lost motion the ability to transform their thoughts into motion. Soon they can use the device to control computers, digital avatars, motorized wheelchairs and robotic prosthetic limbs.

The technology features a non-invasive sensor-lined cap with a neural-based interface that uses electroencephalography (EEG) to read brain waves and translate that into movement commands for a variety of devices including computers.

"Ask your doctor about the latest in prosthetics."

José 'Pepe' L. Contreras-Vida, a lead researcher and University of Maryland associate professor of kinesiology, said though the device wasn't believed possible, the research team is on track to make the brain cap available to the public within the next few years. He said the technology could be life-changing for millions of people whose ability to move has been hampered by paralysis, stroke, or other injuries or illnesses.

Research on the device recently was published in the Journal of Neurophysiology. It is funded through grants from organizations including the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health. Previously findings regarding the brain cap were published in two other journals.

The earlier studies found that participants wearing the device could control a computer cursor with their thoughts, while the other used EEG brain signals to reconstruct complex three dimensional hand movements during human treadmill walking. The latest study used brain signals to reconstruct 3-D movements of the ankle, knee and hip joints.

Others also are working to interface the brain with a computer, but some are invasive, requiring the implantation of electrodes into the brain, and some require extensive training to use.

One of the grants is currently being used to develop thought-controlled robotic prosthetics that could aid victims of stroke or serious injury. Researchers hope to use the four-year grant to design a prosthetic arm that amputees could control directly with their brains. It also would allow the users to feel items that the robotic arm touches. The idea would be that it is able to function as a normal limb would.

Researchers also are collaborating with New Zealand company Rexbionics, which developed a powered lower-limb exoskeleton called Rex that helps restore gait after spinal cord surgery. For over a year, investigators have tracked the neural activity of individuals performing precise tasks such as stepping over dotted lines. They then match specific brain activity with exact lower-limb movement.

Investigators will use that information in creating an ankle robot that contains stored information about a normal human gait and helps those that are partially paralyzed.

Contreras-Vidal also said that in decoding the normal gait, the technology could help teach stroke victims to think in particular ways that match their own EEG signals with normal signals, allowing them to retrain healthy areas of the brain.

Review Date: 
July 29, 2011